Tuesday, April 14, 2009

Spiritual Fitness

I ran four miles yesterday. I’ve been running more lately, because I have a mandatory, semiannual Navy physical fitness test coming up. I used to hate to run. My body hurts. I get tired. It’s no fun. Same goes for other sports. I’ve always been more bookish than brawny. A couple years ago when I was living alone in Germany that all changed. I started running more. Then I joined a gym and began working out. I lost weight and got in shape. At first it was hard. I had to make myself do it. But after six months I was hooked. I became a physical fitness junkie. I actually got to where I enjoyed the workouts and runs. (Imagine that!)

In the past year or so, I’ve slacked off. Busyness with work, family, and dissertation became excuses not to exercise or run as much. When I did, it was hit and miss. I hurt more and didn’t enjoy it as much. Lately I’ve had to force myself to run and I don’t workout, ever. (Just one more thing on my long list of regrets.)

St. Paul uses the Greek word “agon”—where we get “agony” and “agonize”—to describe the Christian life. It’s translated “struggle,” “conflict,” or “contest.” The Apostle encourages his protégé Timothy to “fight the good fight [agon] of faith, lay hold on eternal life”(1 Tim. 6:12). It’s the same word ancient Greeks used for athletic competitions like the Olympics. Some of the early monastics were called “athletes for Christ” because of their extreme, and at times competitive, asceticism. Both sports and spirituality involve struggle, conflict, determination, sometimes even agony.

Right now I don’t like either physical or spiritual training, but I’m trying to thank God for the struggle, even when it hurts and I feel like I’m fighting a losing battle. Maybe if I do this consistently I’ll get to the place where I appreciate, perhaps even enjoy, the struggle. Maybe. For now I’m in no danger of becoming a spiritual fitness junkie.

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