Applying principals from physical fitness to grow your faith and spiritual muscles.
Early in my walk with God, I would often get discouraged and down on myself for not meeting some self-imposed standard of what it should look like to grow in my faith. I thought I should probably be praying every day, reading my bible more often, and never missing church. But the problem was, many days I didn’t FEEL like doing those things. So then I would feel guilty that I didn’t feel like it … and then that guilty feeling made me less likely to go spend time with God because I thought I had to confess all the ways I wasn’t measuring up. I figured it must just come easier to other people and that maybe there was something wrong with me because I didn’t really enjoy reading my bible. Can anyone relate?!
However, when I took a step back and realized that some of these patterns were similar to my pursuit of physical fitness, it freed me up to relax and change my expectations. I began to see that my ‘spiritual fitness’ had a lot of things in common with my physical fitness. And it helped me push through and squash those negative thoughts and patterns.
Don’t get me wrong – God loves you and your process. This blog is not about seeing God as a drill sergeant who’s leaning over you and shouting, “drop and give me 20!” He is patient and enjoys the process. He’s also way more fond of you than you realize. BUT if you do feel compelled to strengthen your faith out of a genuine desire to grow closer to Him than read on…
Changing My Mindset
Our thoughts drive our actions. And when I changed my perspective on spiritual growth to see it as more practical and relatable to other areas of my life, it set me free to have different expectations. Realizing that working on my spiritual health was very similar to working on my physical health helped me to stop being so discouraged, and rather make my walk with God more enjoyable, manageable and rewarding.
In that process of reflection, I found a lot of ways that my pursuit of spiritual health mirrored my approach to physical fitness.
Parallels Between Spiritual and Physical Health
- It’s easy to fall off the bandwagon – You just finish a killer workout and feel like a million bucks. You’re ready to sign up for the ’30 day challenge’ at the studio so you can experience this euphoria every day of the week…. only to find yourself sleeping in past your class time two days later and totally falling off the bandwagon. Prayer and reading the bible can be like this as well – it’s okay if you don’t feel as into it as you did 2 days ago. We all have our days. Don’t let it get you down – you’ve just got to pick it back up and keep going. Yesterday is in the past, and all you can focus on now is what you’re going to do with today.
- It starts with discipline and then evolves to delight – If you’ve ever made fitness a part of your lifestyle for a long period of time, you know that in the beginning every workout can feel like a grind. But eventually, you get to a point where you feel like you can’t live without that workout. You actually crave it and adjust schedules, even while travelling, to make sure you get that regular workout in. Our spiritual walk can be like this too. It can feel a bit heavier weighted on the discipline aspect at first, but slowly we evolve to a place where we feel like we can’t go about our day without spending time with God. Often it starts with discipline, but as we stay the course, we grow to a place where we’re spending time with God out of a genuine desire to be with Him.
- Even on days when you don’t feel like working out – you’re always glad you did – This one is so true. How many times have you not felt like going to the gym or working out. You’re tired or just not in the mood. But if you can push past that initial feeling of resistance and just show up at the gym, you’re SO GLAD you did after having a great workout. Similarly, I’ve had many days when I’m in a funk or feeling down and I know I should pray but I just don’t want to. I’d rather just watch Netflix and zone out. Or take my feelings to my friend to ‘vent’ about how bad I’m feeling over this or that. BUT, if I can just push past that feeling and show up in front of God in prayer to give Him the opportunity to work things through in my heart, I’m never sorry that I did and I always feel better after. It takes practice to make this a new habit because it’s not often what I naturally want to do in the moment when I’m feeling really down.
- It helps to workout with others – Having a work-out buddy makes all the difference for me most of the time. If I’m doing it with a friend and accountable to someone else, I’m exponentially more likely to stay committed. Similarly, God designed us to be in relationship with others. That is the Church. Having a community, small group or even just a few friends to share your faith and do life with can make all the difference.
- Just owning a treadmill or gym membership is not going to cut it – We all want a quick fix and ‘the thing’ that is going to get us to loose the weight. The reality is, you actually have to get on that treadmill, show up at that gym and put your heart into it. Similarly, focusing on appearance of spirituality, doing the religious act or serving at church are not going to move us much farther forward in terms of our relationship with God. We have to show up in our time with Him and put our heart into it. Whatever that looks like. He wants us to be real and not hold back with Him. It’s that quiet time with God where we are just being ourselves and opening up our heart that will have the greatest impact on our spiritual disposition.
- Everybody is different and needs to work on different muscle groups – Don’t expect your journey to look just like someone else’s. We all have different body types and respond better to different types of workouts. Similarly, God made us ALL in His image but gave us different, unique qualities. I believe He made us all unique in terms of how we connect and hear from Him. So some people might be wired to love reading the bible and can’t get enough of all the theological details. Whereas, others might feel most connected to God when they journal or listen to worship music. Both are great. Do what works and feels best for you based on who you are, or the season you’re in. It’s great and inspiring to hear testimonies from other people on how they’ve experienced spiritual break through. But don’t let those stories get you into comparison mode and then feeling down on yourself for where you are. God has you right where he wants you and He has an amazing testimony for your life too!
- When we lift weight, it’s through the tearing of our muscles that they get stronger – Technically, when we lift weights the goal is to push ourselves. Through the process of creating tiny tears in our muscles and allowing them to repair themselves, our muscles grow and get stronger. It doesn’t exactly ‘feel’ good in that moment, but it’s through that mini struggle that we grow. So sometimes in our spiritual walk there are ebbs and flows. Moments where things feel light and easy. And then times when it feels like a struggle or God is prompting us to work on some aspect of our spiritual muscles that needs some growth. The struggles don’t ‘feel good’ in the moment and it’s easy to get down and discouraged, but remember that these are the seasons that often produce the greatest growth in us.
“After experiencing deep grief and trauma in my life, I’ve learned how to take care of my spiritual and physical health so I don’t fall apart. I try to start every morning in prayer and gratitude before I set my intention for the day. This focused time in the morning, makes all the difference in my ability to reach those goals and is a true joy starter for me!”
– Jessica Janzen
Jessica Janzen, featured in this photo, is a wife, mother, speaker, author and joy bringer. After loss and massive heartache, she has made it her life mission to help women get unstuck after experiencing grief and loss. Her mission is all about embracing the beautiful chaos and helping others understand that they don’t have to have it all together. Her perspective is that life is short and we need to live it to the fullest, so let’s DREAM BIG. GO ANYWHERE. DO ANYTHING.
You can find her popular book, Bring the Joy, in our shop!
Thank you so much for writing this blog. I could totally relate to the opening paragraph and the discouragement and guilt that you felt in your attempts to grow your faith. As a former athlete I appreciated the parallels you drew between spiritual and physical health. Such a great approach to help me change my mindset. Looking forward to you continuing this list in Part 2!
Thanks Alisha. Glad to hear you could relate to it. So much of the battle is in our minds. And well-rounded health is definitely a life-long journey. This comment is encouragement for me to get working on Part 2 🙂