I just finished a “21 Day Fix” cardio workout. I am sweaty in a way I fear is unfeminine and more than a little sore in some mighty strange places from yesterday’s workout (or maybe from the one the day before), but I feel pretty good.
This month I’ve been participating in a challenge led by BeachBody coach Jill Clingan—all of the members of the challenge group commit to eat in a healthy way and exercise at least 30 minutes each day. Several of us are doing the 21 Day Fix workout DVDs and nutrition plan. Far from feeling deprived, I’ve been surprised at how much I’ve enjoyed having a detailed plan to follow in order to get more healthy.
Although the 21 Day Fix is new to me, I’ve always exercised pretty consistently, knowing I felt a lot better about my day when I fit in a workout. At times I’ve felt guilty because I was more successful at scheduling my workouts than other practices I felt were more “spiritual.”
So I was intrigued when recently I met with a friend who is a Christian lifestyle coach. His specialty is helping people align their lives with achieving the dreams God has planted in their hearts. And health and fitness is a key component of his work. One of the first things he asks when evaluating his potential clients is how much exercise they are getting and how much water they drink each day.
This was quite a refreshing change for me. (Pardon the pun.)
The Christian world has made progress in this direction lately (I’m thinking of Lysa TerKeurst’s Made to Crave and Rick Warren’s The Daniel Plan), yet I think many of us are still of the mindset that our bodies are somehow divorced from our spiritual life. We pay lip service to the idea that God created our bodies and that they are “temples of the Holy Spirit,” but I’m not sure how much we truly believe that our bodies are important in this way.
I know that I’ve often found myself thinking of my life with God only in a cerebral way, as something I do with my mind—prayer, thought, study, focus.
For example, when I was in seminary, liturgical dance was kind of a big deal for many of the other students. I was fairly young for a seminary student, straight outta undergrad in comparison to many of the other students who were considering ministry as a second career. I’ll be honest with you. My 23-year-old self was internally not very kind to the (mostly middle-aged) women who wanted to do liturgical dance in lieu of their final papers. In a way, it seemed like kind of a cop-out, flitting around to some music instead of spending hours researching and writing. And in another sense, watching all those earnest middle-aged bodies in leotards was more embarrassing than spiritual for me.
My rapidly-approaching-middle-aged self now has a different take. I’m now looking for more ways to connect my spiritual life with my physical life, to worship and meet God in new ways. I’m not ready to don a leotard and do a church solo yet, but I’m more open to the idea of expressing my feelings toward God with my body and movement. One of the places I’ve experienced this is in a basic yoga class I take once a week in the basketball court at the gym. In this most unlikely (at least to me) of settings, I find that the combination of movement and quiet leads me to often feel more connected to God than I do all week. As I bend and stretch (and listen to my knees creak), I find my mind in tune with my body for once, and find that both are focused on God.
I’m starting to truly see the care of my body as an essential part of my spirituality.
It’s often an especially poignant realization for those of us who are parents. Even as we sometimes disregard the needs and health of our own bodies or realize we have done so in the past, we would never want our children to do the same. Maybe it’s because of all the care we’ve lavished on those little persons, but when we think in terms of our children it seems to be a whole lot more clear how important is it to care for those precious bodies.
I find this to be true of the women in my challenge group. As we report to each other on Facebook, every time we make a healthy meal, the sweetest victory seems to come not when we eat it but when one of our children partakes of it or asks to have it again.
In many ways, as parents, we are ready to take better care of our bodies, to integrate them into our spirituality, because we want our children to do so. We want our children to take the utmost care of those bodies we’ve worked so hard to sustain.
And there we are again, back to God. God tells us of the worth of our bodies. Even when our bodies don’t look or seem to us as though they were lovingly designed, Scripture tells us they were. We appreciate this wonderful gift from God, the gift of being embodied spirits, by caring for our bodies, in the same way we want our children to care for their bodies once their bodies become more their responsibilities than our own.
I want to teach my children that separating our lives into God stuff over here and health & body stuff over there is not helpful or true to the way we were created. Of course, I can turn exercise and nutrition into an idol just as easily as I can turn anything into an idol (including prayer, or at least ideas of what prayer should be), but I’m trying to take a step forward with the whole process of integrating the care of my body with my life with God this month, with this challenge.
How have you connected your spiritual life with your physical body?
If you are interested in more information about Jill Clingan’s Facebook Challenge Group coming up in October, please check out her Facebook page or email her at firstname.lastname@example.org.