Connecting with God at the gym

Written by Laura Puiras

Apart from warming the bench on a handful of middle school sports teams and cheerleading in high school, athletics have never played much of a part in my world. If you had told me back then that one day I’d be lifting weights at the gym (for fun?!) I would’ve laughed. A lot. 

Exercise has always been one of those supposed-to-be-good-for-me things that I avoided wholeheartedly. Even though I love the way I felt in those sporadic moments of playing sports, consistent exercising was never worth making into a habit. 

Not until Pandemic Month Nineteen.

Joining a gym began as something to maybe consider doing with my housemates, something to get us out of the house. In some miraculous turn of events, it has now become part of my weekly routine. And even more unbelievably, I wouldn’t trade that part of my day for anything—not even sleeping in longer. 

According to the Enneagram personality types, I am a Type 2. While people and their personalities can be described in all sorts of different ways, the Enneagram outlines nine main types: (1) The Reformer, (2) The Helper, (3) The Achiever, (4) The Individualist, (5) The Investigator, (6) The Loyalist, (7) The Enthusiast, (8) The Challenger and (9) The Peacemaker. 

Type 2s (Helpers) typically enjoy, you guessed it, helping others! They can be friendly people who give generously of themselves to the people around them. Unfortunately, they can also easily slip into people-pleasing mode and begin to care more about doing things for others than they care about acknowledging their own needs. In many cases, this desire/drive to help others can be traced back to a false belief that they must serve others in order to be loved.

So, what does this have to do with going to the gym? I’ve discovered that every time I choose to work out, I’m also exercising my mind and the way I think about myself. I’m stretching myself as a prone-to-perform Type 2.

On my third day of deadlifts, when I wasn’t able to get the form exactly right, I was beyond annoyed. My brain knew I needed to lift with my legs and back at the same time, not bend like a hinge. And yet the knowledge and follow-through were completely out of sync. 

My friend joked and said, “So, what—Are you just going to quit now?”

He reminded me that I had only been lifting weights a few times and that there was no way I could execute the techniques perfectly yet. It was going to take time. 

I can’t help but wonder how many times we go to quit on our calling or on the task the Lord has set before us for fear of not being perfect at it immediately

How many times are we caught up in comparing ourselves to the people around us rather than allowing ourselves to be caught up in the work of the Spirit? 

How many times have I chosen to heap extra weight on my shoulders based on how well or how poorly I performed, when the only thing God ever asked me to lift was my face towards Him?

As the pressure to magically and instantly become a perfect weightlifter began to dissolve and the unhealthy striving ceased, I felt at home. Not just in the gym, but within myself. When I approached the gym one day, I noticed the same kind of excitement stirring in me that I often feel when I arrive at church or go to worship/spend time with God. 

The gym, I’ve come to realize, is another place for me to feel especially close to God. The  closeness doesn’t happen because of anything I’ve done well or because I’ve been especially helpful lately. It’s actually the exact opposite. 

The more I begin to simply be present and do my best with whichever lifts I’m doing in the moment, the more I begin to feel peace overtake the stress. Every time I choose to show up and lift, even if it’s less than the day before, I have an opportunity to practise receiving more of the unconditional love and peace of God. And that lifts my spirits every time!

I won’t pretend it’s easy to receive that kind of love, especially when I don’t feel like I’ve earned it. I’m choosing to practise laying down my striving and picking up peace instead of reaching for perfection.