By Graham Glover –
One of my favorite things to do at the end of the day is to go to the gym about 1,000 meters from my office and spend some time in the sauna. Sometimes I’ll get my second workout in for the day, but more often than not I only have time for a few moments in the sauna. And what a glorious few moments these are!
The heat is intense. It’s really, really hot. Sometimes it’s brutal. But I love it – even when I come out looking like I just went for a swim. Did I mention it’s hot in the sauna?
No matter if I’ve been outside all day with my Soldiers on the range, sweating profusely in the Georgia humidity, I love going to the sauna. Even if I can only sit for a few minutes, my time in the sauna is quasi-sacred. Some days it’s a must.
I’m no scientist, but I swear 10-15 minutes in the sauna gets every bad toxin out of my body (especially if I’ve followed Paul Koch’s commendation to enjoy Happy Hour on Friday!). I may be drenched with sweat, but I feel great. For practical purposes, this is why I love going to the sauna.
But my love affair with the sauna has grown much deeper than a good sweat and detox. I look forward to my trips to the sauna because of the company and conversation I experience in this relatively small room tucked away in the back corner of the locker room. Those joining me for the heat are mainly civilian workers on Ft. Benning. Most of them are prior military, now working as DOD civilians. On the whole, my sauna group of friends are much older than I. I’d guess the average age is 60. We come from different backgrounds and have some pretty different perspectives on life. But my time in the sauna has proven to be the most informative and valuable time of my day during the past three years.
Usually when I enter there is a resounding, “Chaplain!” that comes from those enduring the sauna heat. It’s not that my presence changes the topic of conversation or even softens some of the language used. On the contrary, my arrival typically results in two sides of a debate looking to me to settle the argument. “What do you think Chappy?” Or, when the divide is particularly deep, “What do the Scriptures say Chap?” I try to deflect my role as arbiter and just smile as I sit down to begin my sweat. I’m usually not interested in settling a debate, unless my favorite Seventh Day Adventist is lobbying one of his theological duds at me. I’m much more interested in learning from these men. To sit and listen, with sweat pouring out of every possible pore on my body, is what I cherish most about this time.
In the sauna I don’t have 18-22 year old Trainees complaining about a tough Drill Sergeant or why they miss their girlfriend or mom. These men have been through some of life’s most difficult struggles, to include the battlefield and the heartaches of broken families. Listening to their stories I have been taught the importance of tough love and how to navigate the ever-demanding requirements of serving on Active Duty. I think I have learned more about marriage from them then any marriage workshop I have attended!
In the sauna I don’t have theologians bickering over the minutia of doctrine (not that there’s anything wrong with that…). Rather, I have men earnestly seeking to understand the grace of God in a world filled and marred with sin. Most of them confess Christ as Lord, even while they struggle through the realities of their own imperfections and the profound reality that this same Lord forgives them. At times, when the stories get real personal, tears flow and repentance becomes vocal – all while we sweat and nod in agreement. This comradery and friendship is about as real as it gets.
In the sauna I see a picture of life in America that resembles very little of the middle-class life I have experienced. The joke about my salary as an officer, but never begrudge me for what I make. They know what it means to financially struggle, from their own experience, to many of their family members. These struggles aren’t where to go for lunch, but if there is enough money to pay for lunch.
In the sauna I see why the color of one’s skin is completely insignificant. We are a bunch of men, sweating and barely clothed – talking about life, God, and our women and children. What we look like and where our ancestors came from is the furthest thing from my mind. We are all alike is this sweat box. All imperfect men trying to figure it out – no matter our age or our race.
Life in the sauna over the past 3 years has been great. I never knew I could learn so much in 10 minutes or have my world rocked in 20. The life lessons of the sauna are truly some of the best I know. I only hope that the sauna that awaits me at our next duty station is equally as instructive…