Working Out as Worship???

Susan Narjala   |   October 12, 2021 

Back in the day, I would slide a DVD into my laptop and play “30 Day Shred” — a workout video from the well-known TV fitness coach Jillian Michaels.

Jillian promised that 30 days of exercising with her and I would be “shredded.”

And so I huffed and puffed and grunted and groaned my way through jumping jacks like an energizer bunny with malfunctioning batteries.

I envisioned myself as a block of cheddar being shredded by one of those shiny IKEA cheese graters.

But, as it turned out, I never quite got “sculpted” like the workout video guaranteed I would.

To be fair, there may or may not have been minor technicality involved: My 30 days were, (*cough), interspersed over the course of 8 to 12 months. But, as I said, that’s entirely ignorable fine print. Jillian really should have been more specific about the exact duration of the 30-day shred. Also, it probably didn’t help that I was thinking about shredded cheese (and Swedish meatballs and soft-serve ice cream at IKEA) while working out.

Exercise and I have never shared an amicable relationship. I avoid it like a millennial with commitment issues running from the M word.

I don’t enjoy moving in any way that involves elevated heart rates or levels of perspiration that don’t qualify as a “glow.”

Even as a kid, PE class would find me under a tree in the school sports field, with a couple of friends who shared a bent for conversation over callisthenics, ready to pull out an excuse if the teacher wanted to know why I wasn’t participating in anything but a gab-a-thon.

But recently I’ve found myself slowly but surely come to enjoy certain exercises. Okay, who am I kidding — “enjoy” is too generous a word. Let’s just say I’m not entirely averse to sweating it out, pounding the pavement, and getting the blood pumping a little.

So, what shifted?

I would say that it’s my goal with exercising.

I’m no longer keen to be “shredded.” Or “ripped” or “skinny” or “thin” or “sculpted.”

My goal is to honour God with the body He’s given me. 1 Corinthians 6: 19-20 reminds me that my body is the temple of the Holy Spirit. It goes on to say: “You are not your own, for you were bought with a price. So honour God with your body.”

The Message version puts it like this: “Don’t you see that you can’t live however you please, squandering what God paid such a high price for?”

All of me, including my physical being, belongs to God because He created it and paid a high price for it through the death of Jesus. Therefore, I can’t live “however I please,” but I need to honour God with my body by moving in healthy ways so I can serve Him. (By extension, this also denotes that I don’t overwork it or strain it with too much exercise or allow my physical being or my fitness to become idols in my life).

Exercise, therefore, doesn't become an obstacle to overcome nor an obligation to fulfil, but an act of obedience as I present my body as a "living sacrifice" to God (Romans 12: 1).

Perhaps I sound like I’m spouting a bunch of Christianese.

But here’s the thing: When I exercise because I think I’m not good enough and need to whip myself into shape, I set myself up for failure. I’m striving for a standard that the world prescribes as acceptable—and starting from that place of negativity only serves to fuel frustration.

But when I see my body as a gift from God and understand that I’ve been already made “good” by Him, even my workout can become worship. We worship God by moving our bodies which He created with intentionality.

Working out is not divorced from the spiritual—it encompasses a part of our beings that God uniquely designed with wisdom and creativity and purpose.

God didn’t make a mistake when He knit us together in our mothers’ wombs. We need to reclaim the gift of our physical body instead of berating it, overworking it, punishing it, or exalting it.

Author Sam Allberry says it like this: “We've got more reason to steward our physical health well than someone who doesn't believe in God because we believe our physical life is a gift from God.”

Let’s learn to move in healthy ways. Not to fit into some external qualification of beauty or acceptability. But because we’ve already been declared good by our Creator and are called to nurture what He has paid such a high price for.

The only thing I’m going to be “shredding” any time soon is some cheese for our tacos for dinner tonight. But I do hope that after enjoying a good meal, I will go for a brisk walk, enjoying the cold night air, thankful that “in Him we live and move and have our being.” (Acts 17: 28)

 

Photo by Timon Studler on Unsplash

 

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When she's not smuggling chocolate past her kids or drinking gallons of coffee, Susan Narjala can be found writing, baking and (thinking about) working out. She grew up in Chennai, lived in Portland, Oregon, for the last ten years and is now back in India with her family. She finds nuggets of humour in the everyday, and writes about it on on her blog, www.susannarjala.com

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