I used to say I’d never marry a man who liked to exert himself. Hiking, biking, and walking were my dad’s “homeschool P.E” – and there was no class I liked less. If I could avoid exerting myself, I would.
Fast forward to college, where late night pints of Haagen-Daaz made “naturally skinny” a thing of the past, and the gym and I made amends. I began working out on a regular basis. Seven years, a wedding, and a pregnancy later, I still am. I now enjoy working out – particularly (and ironically) with my husband. But while I enjoy meeting new goals and pushing myself to do better, I come to fitness with a balanced view. Too often physical fitness is elevated to the role of an idol and an addiction. It can become so all-consuming we forget why we started in the first place.
But can physical fitness be a spiritual discipline? I think so, and here’s why.
Fitness Cultivates Perseverance
And let us not grow weary of doing good, for in due season we will reap, if we do not give up. (Gal. 6:9)
It wasn’t until I began working out on a regular basis that I truly understood the meaning of perseverance. The physical act of pushing myself past the comfort zone taught me that doing the hard thing – though tough in the moment – brings greater satisfaction than only doing what feels good. Fitness of body has many parallels to fitness of spirit. As we work out our bodies, our understanding of spiritual perseverance deepens as well.
Conversely, if you’re unaccustomed to pushing yourself in any area – fitness, work, school – you may find it difficult to resist temptation and take a stand for what you believe. Because worldview affects our thinking, and our minds dictate how we act, a passive or “if it feels good, I’ll do it” outlook handicaps us in more ways than just the physical. Learning to push ourselves physically and make a habit of regular exercise teaches us the gain of perseverance – a principle that applies to every area of life.
Fitness Teaches the Quality of Pain
“Everyone who competes in the games trains with strict discipline. They do it for a crown that is perishable, but we do it for a crown that is imperishable. Therefore I do not run aimlessly; I do not fight like I am beating the air. No, I discipline my body and make it my slave, so that after I have preached to others, I myself will not be disqualified.” (1 Cor. 9:25-27)
My distaste for exercise as a teen was largely due to the discomfort I endured. I could think of nothing worse than running long distances of one’s own free will. Now I run a few miles a couple of days a week – and I look forward to it. What changed? My perception of pain.
If pain has no purpose, it is at the very least inconvenient and at most, torturous. But when pain has a purpose and a goal, we can face it with endurance. Physical fitness teaches the quality of pain: if we endure, pain brings strength, growth, and satisfaction. Just as applicably, by embracing pain as a character builder we become women of strength and fortitude.
It was this understanding of pain that inspired my choice to give birth naturally, though I consider my pain tolerance very low. My past six years working out taught me that pain, though temporary, brings great rewards when endured. Unbelievably to many, my birth experience was one of the most spiritual experiences of my life – not because it was easy, painless, or relaxing, but because I was completely aware of how my pain intersected with God’s enabling strength.
For you have need of endurance, so that when you have done the will of God you may receive what is promised. (Heb. 10:36)
Enduring through the pain of physical fitness teaches us to endure in our spiritual lives, leaning on the strength of God and seeing hard situation to the end.
Fitness Is Good Stewardship
“Or do you not know that your body is a temple of the Holy Spirit within you, whom you have from God? You are not your own, for you were bought with a price. So glorify God in your body.” (1 Cor. 6:19-20)
We often hear our bodies referred to as “temples” only in regard to sexual sin, but this truth goes much further. The significance of our bodies as literal temples is often lost on believers in the New Covenant. To understand the weight of this, we need to take a look at what it meant for Old Testament saints. This verse from 2 Chronicles 7 is God’s response to Solomon after he dedicated the Temple:
“Now my eyes will be open and my ears attentive to the prayers offered in this place. I have chosen and consecrated this temple so that my Name may be there forever. My eyes and my heart will always be there.” (v. 15-16)
The Temple of God was precious and valuable, it was indwelled by God Himself. When Paul said WE are temples of God’s Holy Spirit, that was no small statement! We are chosen and consecrated, and God’s Name is within us forever – His ‘eyes and heart will always be there’. This is incredible! And this is why we are called to be good stewards of the bodies housing His Spirit.
If we become obsessed with our bodies, we miss the point of being God’s Temple – the point is to bring glory to Him, not to ourselves. But if we neglect our bodies and fail to care for them in a God-honoring way, we miss the mark as well.
Our Workout Schedule
I’m often asked what my workout routine looks like, especially now that I have a baby. Between basic home management (cooking, cleaning, laundry), the baby, my blog, and my work, exercise has to be intentional or it won’t happen. Over the years I’ve used Jillian Michaels, Chalene Johnson’s PiYo, and workout regimes from Bodybuilder.com. I’ve enjoyed the app Couch to 5k as well. These days, Josh has his own workout routine through Nerd Fitness. I use Kayla Itsine’s BBG program. When we were first married and then throughout my pregnancy, I would work out before my 8-5 job – usually around 5 AM. After Adeline was born, I spent the first three months doing light walking and recovery of my diastasis recti (ab separation) and pelvic floor. At 3 months postpartum, I started BBG and have been doing it since. In the winter I worked out in my kitchen. Now we have a family plan at our local rec center, so Josh does his routine after work and I either go in the morning after Adeline’s breakfast, or meet him there. Our gym has childcare, so we maximize on that opportunity.
My weekly workout schedule is dictated by the BBG plan, but generally looks like this:
Monday: Legs and Cardio
Wednesday: Arms and Abs
Friday: Full Body or Arms/Abs/Cardio
Sunday: Rest and Recovery
I may be adding a Zumba class on Saturdays because – who doesn’t love Zumba?!
Monday, Wed, Fri: Full Body workout and weight lifting
Tuesday and Thursday: Swim
Saturday: Walk or Run with me (we use a jogger stroller – totally worth the money!)
When we see physical fitness and spiritual stewardship as two sides of the same coin we are far more likely to cultivate a holistic faith: a faith in God that affects all aspects of our lifestyle. If we truly long to honor God we will honor Him with everything – our finances, our words, our actions, our thoughts, and our bodies.
Questions or thoughts? Email firstname.lastname@example.org.