Finding Jesus at the Gym

I've been trying to find a rhythm of time these days. Something that could provide a sense of schedule now that I've lost the routine of going to work in the morning.

Enter: the gym.

I have been going to the gym while my son is in preschool. I workout during that window of time when I find myself jobless and kidless, with the potential to fall down the click-holes of the Internet if I'm not mindful. Losing my time and footing feels especially risky in this season of wandering and waiting.

I've been trying to get back in the habit of going to the gym anyway, hoping to lose some weight and gain some health. So, there seemed no better time to start than now.

The gym carries its own holes I could slip into, old habits of obsession and eating disorders, fears of looking as awkward and out-of-shape as I feel, shame about the size of my frame, anxiety that this endeavor in the end will be some sort of failure. I have been swallowing hard, and going to the gym anyway. 

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I was on the lateral elliptical machine, listening to a podcast sermon from my friend, Micah. It was an introduction to the book of Hebrews, in which one of the opening verses says this, 

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The Son is the radiance of God’s glory and the exact representation of his being, sustaining all things by his powerful word. - Hebrews 1:3

If Jesus is the exact representation of God, then any picture we hold of who God is that is not in line with what we know of Jesus, is wrong.

At the end, Micah challenged everyone to participate in a prayer exercise, to release to God a picture we are holding of who He is, and allow Him to replace that with a picture of Jesus.

Explanations of experiential service elements are usually the point of a podcast when I press skip and move on to the next sermon. Something is lost for me when I wasn't there to participate in them live and in-person.

But this time, I didn't press skip. I closed my eyes and wondered if God might meet me right there, at the gym, in the space between.

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The day before, I had been wondering if God was indifferent towards me.

My failures and my shortcomings seemed more visible than His goodness, and I wondered if He could, if He would, provide me a job I would love. I wondered if He cared about something that seems so trivial in comparison to the needs of this world.

I don't think I actually believe God is indifferent, but sometimes the things we don't believe feel more real than the faith we wish we had.

Eyes closed, moving in the rhythm of the elliptical machine, I gave the word "indifferent" to God, and asked Him to replace it with an image of Jesus. Skeptical, I might add, that He would actually do it.

Before I had time to think, I saw Jesus washing my feet.

I've heard it said that Jesus washing the disciples' feet was a great act of servanthood. Though that's true, it was also a beautiful embodiment of intimacy. Touching feet is not something we do when we are indifferent towards someone. Taking off someone's sandal, putting their foot in water, scrubbing their toes clean, these are all intentional acts that require closeness and time.

I imagine Jesus wiping my feet while He looks at me with a gleam in His eyes, the kind of satisfied look you see in the face of a loved one after the shared richness of deep conversation. I imagine Jesus gently wiping my feet until all the filth- the sweat, the fear, and the shame- is washed away by his love.

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I open my eyes and slow down. My workout is done, and it's time to get off the machine. 

I walk away hoping this picture of God will last longer than the post-workout high. 

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Do you have a picture of God that needs to be replaced with a picture of Jesus? God might just give you a vision if you ask for one. Even if you ask at the gym.

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How Authenticity Falls Short

Authenticity is a gigantic buzzword these days. We are all trying to be authentic all the time, and we are all judging everyone else for how well they are doing at it. For some of us, authenticity comes naturally. For others, it is a learned skill, and one that we struggle to put into practice.

It is a worthwhile pursuit. Authenticity holds hands with vulnerability and walks us down the path towards our true selves.

But I wonder if it is enough.

We treat authenticity like we are pirates on a quest for treasure. Like the pursuit of finding it and spending it is ultimate purpose of our personhood.

I am coming to believe that authenticity is only one a portion of our longing. It is not the treasure, but the map. It is the thing that can lead us to what we are really searching for, deep down in the pit of our souls.

Intimacy.

There’s an important distinction between authenticity and intimacy. Authenticity is about me. Intimacy is about us.

authenticity and intimacy
authenticity and intimacy

They are connected, to be sure. True intimacy cannot come without authenticity. But intimacy also requires more than that.

Intimacy asks not only that I trust you with my authentic self, but that I provide space for you to trust me with your authentic self. Which means I will sometimes be the one put my stuff out for you to see, and other times, I will put out empty hands so I can hold onto your offering.

Intimacy requires not only authenticity, but also humility, love, and sacrifice.

Intimacy does not come easily. It is cultivated by energy over a long period of time. It involves failures and frustration as we engage in the messiness of life together.

Yet isn’t intimacy what love looks like? To know and be known? To lay down our lives for each other? To push away fear with compassion? To be truly with one another? To trust and forgive and encourage, over and over and over again?

People will fail us and we will get hurt. The cultivation of intimacy will not be easy. But let’s have the courage to try.

Giving Up... My Filters

Lent Series Button Awhile back, I was at the science museum with my family. There was a station set up to learn about filtration systems. A guy was there with large pretend filters, one with large gaps, one with medium gaps, and one with small gaps. He was challenging kids to throw balls and try to make it through the holes. It was easy to see how each of the layers of the filter was important: one to catch large particles, one to catch medium, and one to catch small.

We all know what it’s like to be around someone with no filter. There can be a lot of unintentional relational damage from someone who always speaks their mind all the time.

Me? I veer too far in the other direction. I over-filter and over-edit myself. Even in writing this post, I have pressed the backspace button way too many times for the amount of words I have written.

Bear with me, for in the spirit of giving up this over-filtering, I’m going to write the rest of this post unedited. (Except for spelling mistakes. I will fix those. I don’t think I can take this “giving up” practice that far…)

I have had this awareness of myself before, but last night, I realized it in new ways. I had a difficult afternoon, and I called a friend to talk about it. While I was still crying. And I thought, “I don’t know if I’ve ever done this before.”

I talk pretty openly about my life, but not when I’m knee deep in the middle of things. I wait until it’s safe. I wait until I can edit and filter and present the version of myself that can handle it. That is ok. That trusts God in spite of life circumstances.

I edit the version of me I present to others.

And without realizing it, I also edit the version of myself I present to God.

Though I am the type of person who shouts from the rooftops about the importance of honesty in prayer, of coming to God as you are without concern for how you should be, about yelling your frustrations because after all, if he is God, he can handle it, I have only pretended to do that myself.

I have come honest, but only after pausing to edit my honesty first.

Yesterday, after this conversation, I prayed. And I prayed ugly. My words were more raw and messy and truthful than they have been for a long time. Maybe ever. And I realized how scared I really was to utter those things outloud, and how I had only faked rawness before that point.

I removed one layer, and thought that meant I was being raw. But  I wasn’t unfiltered, I was only less filtered.

It wasn’t intentional. I can think of only a few times I have hid on purpose. But with each layer that God pulls back, I am finally able to see the other layer that is behind it.

And I’m pushing my way through, one at a time.

It is a mix of discipline and trust to give up this editing practice. The discipline of saying: I’m going to write this without pressing backspace, I’m going to have this conversation when I can’t yet articulate what’s wrong, I’m going to pray my questions before they have answers. And the trust of saying: I can’t control this process, I believe I will still be loved regardless of how things sound, I understand that my mess is just as much the real me as my beauty.

The trusting part? That will take time and prayer and the movement of the Holy Spirit more than anything else. But the discipline part? I can do something about that. I can push my way into things that are painful and uncomfortable and ugly and unedited knowing that it’s worth it.

Christ is sitting on the other side of my filters with his hand reached out. He longs for greater intimacy than I've allowed. He is already holding my hand, but he wants more of me than that. He is waiting to embrace the whole of who I am, once these things blocking the way are removed. He is patient.

It’s up to me to admit that I need to give up my filters. Christ won’t force it. But He also won’t judge me for how long it takes. He is with me, pouring his grace through any of the cracks that will let it get through.


Giving Up... is a Lenten Series asking a question: What if we gave up more than external things for Lent? It's not a belief that we can get rid of our baggage as easily as we can write a blog post. But, it is a belief that admitting those things that keep us from deeper intimacy with Christ is a good start. {Please note, this isn't in any way meant to be a critique of those giving up something external. Often that is connected to the internal in a powerful way. In my case, though, I realized that the external sacrifice was hindering me from dealing with what was going on below the surface.}