I’ve recently started going to the gym. My top goal is to build muscle, and I’m suddenly immersed in the language of sets and reps, dead lifts and hip thrusts and rest days.
I chat with one of my friends about our exercise routines, she’s been doing this a lot longer than me. I don’t sweat when I’m lifting weights, am I doing something wrong? Sometimes it doesn’t even feel like I am doing much. She reminds me that the difference from cardio is that when you are strength training, you’re not burning the calories all at once. You’re burning them through the day, even after you’ve left the gym. Muscles actually grow in between your sessions, which is what I like to remind myself as I sit on the couch. I’m not being lazy, my muscles are growing!
I’m challenged to put this kind of energy into my spiritual growth as well. One of my biggest obstacles in both of these areas is my impatience. When I do something new, I want to be great at it right away. I want to be strong now. I want to be fluent in each exercise now… I want to have the right prayers to say, the right answers to give, the wise questions to ask.
I know this isn’t how growth happens, and yet there is this underlying agitation in me as I do the work. Why don’t I look like her yet? Why am I not at that stage already? Why am I not able to do that yet?
But in my fitness training and my spiritual growth, I need to trust in the invisible changes that are happening within me. When I take the time to pray, to sit in the presence of God, to worship him, these things are challenging me in the best possible way. This is resistance training for the soul. Instead of clicking play on the next Netflix episode, I put a song on and rest, listening for whatever God might want to say to me.
Each of these “faith building sessions” makes it more likely that I’ll be paying attention throughout the day. My soul will be awake and alert, pumping life through me even when I move away from that moment of stillness. I cannot grow my soul on my own, but I can open myself up more and more to Christ, “the author and perfecter of my faith” (Hebrews 12:2).
… let us throw off everything that hinders and the sin that so easily entangles. And let us run with perseverance the race marked out for us, fixing our eyes on Jesus, the pioneer and perfecter of faith. For the joy set before him he endured the cross, scorning its shame, and sat down at the right hand of the throne of God. – Hebrews 12:1-2 (NIV)
There’s a poster on the wall at the gym that I stare at as I warm up on the tread mill: Progress not Perfection it reads. How do I let go of this desire to be perfect now? Can I find contentment in the journey, in the small steps, even in the mistakes and the not knowing?
I think if I can change my mindset from focusing on results, to focusing on how much of Jesus I am treasuring in each moment, then the emphasis becomes love and joy rather than imperfection and feeling that I’m not enough.
We grow because it is good for us. Because it helps us to take hold of the freedom that God wants for us, the love he wants to lavish on us, the fullness of life he dreams for us. Not because there is something fundamentally wrong with how Jesus sees us.
So what do I have right now, even in this place of imperfection? I have all that I need. Tomorrow I will wake up and begin a new day, remembering that I am not alone on this adventure. I have everything I need to know Christ and to be known by him. Every moment is a moment to begin.