By Tim Barkett –
*Tim is a pastor serving Christ the King Lutheran Church in Newbury Park, CA and a friend of The Jagged Word.*
I lift. Actually it is a great love of mine. If you have this same passion, you can recall the smell of hard work. You can hear the clank of heavy weight, lifted and racked, over and over, that makes your pulse race. Even better, watching someone grunting to reach their next PR (“Personal Record”, for you non-gym rats) is a rush of motivation to push even more weight. This often leads to the ever satisfying occasion of out lifting the guy next to me who’s twenty years, or more, my junior… excellent. The sounds of the spin class instructor on a head set encouraging her students to a thumping AC/DC track helps me push my own work out that much harder. The whir of the treadmills as people try to shed those pounds and get a little healthier creates a comforting white noise.
While I love the atmosphere, sounds, and even smells of the gym, I also love what it does for me physically. I can eat more (food might be my second hobby) and not get “big” in an unhealthy way. My clothes fit better and I feel strong and able. I’m an endorphin addict without a doubt.
But, like everything in life, there’s an unhealthy side to the gym. There is a dark side to the pull up bar (other than the pain it inevitably causes if used correctly). There is a downfall to the free weights and the yoga classes (that’s another article altogether). The rows and rows of treadmills and step aerobics classes can reveal years of self-doubt and silent hate, bad body images, and inferiority complexes of which even Napoleon would have been jealous. There is a side that’s crying out for love and renewed life and elongation of days in a sinister way. Sin enters in; it takes something good and turns it into a substitute for God, as the idol worship begins.
It is a sad phenomenon, how many times I’ve been at the gym and watched as some guy (or gal) admire himself in the mirror. He then slowly lifts his shirt to reveal an impressive washboard of ripples under his too tight, $100 workout shirt… and then peeks to see who else is looking.
And so, I wonder about them. What happens when they can no longer lift? It is coming, super guy. What happens when sickness, age, injury, laziness, or a combo of all of these catches up to them and the muscle begins to turn to fat? When one day the six pack has become a keg, what will they turn to?
Will they seek some other god of choice to fill their time and thoughts, like the hours at the gym used to do?
I lift, however it does not define me. I’m not defined by the gym, or the fruit smoothie bar (yum! by the way…), or the interesting interactions I have with people when they say, “Dude! Do you lift? You look like you’ve been working out.” Rather, I am defined by a relationship: a relationship with my creator. The God who saved and redeemed me through the life, death and resurrection of Jesus so that I might live, and love, and serve, and lift in that freedom. I am defined by one who teaches me, daily, to work with what I have been given, today, and that’s all I can really handle. Jesus Christ did the heavy lifting I couldn’t do when it came to fixing the severed relationship with God. He died in my place and forgives my brokenness and weakness, completely. This echoes into all eternity and across every nation, region, language, and people group.
I lift, but the excessive, unhealthy exercise culture isn’t what defines me. It is a death to sin and a new life in Christ which drives me.
As a result, we are other, better things. A husband. A father of two energetic teens and a hilarious ten year old. A man who can call other men to accountability and wisdom and hope and integrity and courage found only in Christ. A Pastor of amazing, confusing, redeemed, hopeful, joyful, hurting, living, loving people.
How about you? You lift? Is it just iron or have you been lifting something much heavier and darker in your soul? Are you all alone, preoccupied with your ear-buds as the beautiful distractions of life come slamming into your senses over and over again? You are not sweating it out on your own. Jesus did all the heavy lifting for you, too.