Sanctified Sweat

OUR local gym might give you a better picture of church life than you realize. For the “most wonderful time of the year” I made a simple resolution. Instead of gaining five pounds from festive foods, I would work harder in the gym to offset the increased calorie intake. My time at the YMCA made me reflect on church life.

First, people who’ve never been to the gym can be really anxious about going.

Second, people who haven’t been to the gym in quite a while can be really anxious about going.

Third, a lot of people at the gym feel like phonies. They’re just trying to do the best they can. But they feel like everyone around them is more committed and more suited for a regular work out routine.

Fourth, the more fit you begin to feel the easier it becomes to be dismissive of the first three categories of people.

When you’re the one coming to the gym for the first time, or coming back after a long hiatus, or fighting through what seems like a nominal task, you aren’t judging the person next to you. But when you’re hitting mile five with barely breaking a sweat, you can start to look down at the person huffing and puffing as they walk half a mile on the treadmill next to you.

Fifth, at the gym it’s all about your effort. Sometimes church feels like that. The analogy should break down here, but sometimes it doesn’t. Sometimes church can feel like a place we have to look our best, make sure our kids act perfectly, have the right answers if called upon, and never, ever, never, give the impression that we are struggling.

So, here’s some takeaways from my gym reflection. When you go to church this Sunday, recognize you’re going to be surrounded by people who have a lot going on. Many of them feel really anxious to be there.

For some, just being there required far more than you realize. Their walking through the door, finding an inconspicuous seat, trying to look content as they fidget with a bulletin, is a sign of supernatural grace.

Don’t discount that. Celebrate it. And maybe talk to them. Not the obnoxious how are you question where it’s clear you don’t want any kind of lengthy response or relationship. Sit down and get to know them.

Don’t be too impressed with your own progress. You might be further along than them, but it’s possible you started from a closer point. That person next to you, who seems so far behind, may have traveled further to get where they are than you realize.

My son got to see a great picture of this last Sunday when he went with me to a church plant where I was preaching. It’s always refreshing to be in a new church. They don’t have a lot of the baggage that churches take on over time. My son sat next to a woman in her sixties who hasn’t been to church in years. It was her first time to attend this church. She thought it was time, as she has been sober for almost a year now.

I loved that my son got to experience that. It’s a beautiful picture of what the church can and should look like, a safe place for people who feel like they don’t belong. A place where we recognize that we all belong, not because we deserve it, but because of the work of another. Though a gym reminds me of church, I’m thankful the analogy breaks down. We’re saved by his blood and not our sweat.