catapult magazine

catapult magazine

Vol 12, Num 7 :: 2013.03.29 — 2013.04.11


Work, exercise and self-donating love

Why do we have muscles? Why has God given us such potential for physical strength, speed and endurance? Are muscles merely instruments of human survival, or ornaments to be put on display?

I believe that exercise should be viewed as an opportunity to love God and serve one’s neighbor. In other words, muscles are instruments of service and self-donating love. So how do we organize an exercise program around love? 

Exercise is a sub-category of “work”

The Bible rarely addresses the topic of exercise in an explicit way. When the Bible was written, physical labor was necessary for most vocational pursuits. People lifted things, walked long distances and used tools that were powered by muscles. Exercise is an implicit subcategory of “work,” which does happen to be significant theme in scripture.

The Bible speaks of work as a good thing, and a means of blessing others. Work is about producing tangible goods and services that enrich life and creat value for a community. Work, in the Kingdom of God, is productivity leading to willing generosity.

Consider this verse: “Let the thief no longer steal, but rather let him labor, doing honest work with his own hands, so that he may have something to share with anyone in need” (Ephesians 4:28).  Do you see the productive and outward-focused nature of work, and by implication, exercise? I think there’s something truly good about the type of physical exertion that produces something tangible, or enriches the lives of others. However, there’s something ironic about our technological age that has taken the physical “work” out of work, and now we need to go “work out” after we “clock out.”

Since cars remove the need to climb hills, we now find ourselves needing a Stairmaster. We don’t have a real boat or lake, so we have to use a rowing machine. We rarely need to lift real things, so we do curls, squats and the bench press. I enjoy lifting weights, especially when I get into the habit of it, but I sometimes wonder if all of that physical energy could be used to produce something tangible or meet a real need in someone’s life.

Exercise or relationships?

Work (and exercise) has historically been much more integrated with community and embodied human interaction. This is true of the biblical context, and most of history, but began to change in the twentieth century. This leads me to my main challenge with exercise in the twenty-first century, namely, the lack of integration with life.

Here’s the problem: I don’t have enough time to spend an hour at the gym without stealing time from other vital aspects of my life. An hour at the gym is an hour away from my family, friends and neighbors.  If I do manage to spend time at the gym, and also make time for relationships, then I won’t have time for other things like productivity in the actual work that I get paid for, intellectual growth or intentionally seeking the flourishing of my community.

Going to the gym at 5:00 a.m. means I will miss my best hours of thinking, reading and writing. How can I choose to stop by the gym at 5:00 p.m., knowing that my sweet daughter is peeking out of the front window, eagerly waiting for daddy to come home? If I get home at 6:00 p.m., I’ll have less than an hour with her before she goes to bed.

Work, exercise and community were once integrated in agrarian cultures. However, I live in a segmented world in which I need to re-integrate things creatively, or else one of the plates will drop. In a society with such fragmented rhythms of life, it often feels like I’m forced to forfeit something of immense importance.

But what if I don’t have to choose? What if I could make an exercise plan that re-integrates community, and productivity, and tangibly blesses others? Rather than spending an hour away from people at the gym, I could devote several hours each week to spending time with, and serving, others.

I know this is obvious to many people, but it’s an epiphany to me. I’ve always pictured exercise as an individualistic endeavor that required a gym membership. But I’m starting to think I can have a “love-shaped” exercise routine, which leads me to the next practice that I want to integrate into my journey toward health.

11 ways to integrate self-giving love and exercise

I’m interested in experimenting with a more integrated approach to intentional exercise. Let’s start a conversation about practical ways to integrate exercise and the love of one’s neighbor. Here are some ideas that came to mind:

  1. Helping people move, especially new university students.
  2. Mowing my lawn, or lawns in my neighborhood, with a manual lawn mower.
  3. Playing “Super Jump” with my daughter.
  4. Playing basketball (or other sports) with friends.
  5. Gardening.
  6. Running (or riding a bike) as a presence in the neighborhood.
  7. Picking up trash in a vacant field.
  8. Building and fixing things.
  9. Sweeping my driveway and the sidewalks in my neighborhood.
  10. Painting over graffiti.
  11. Prayer walks with my wife and daughter.

These are just a few ideas. What are some other ways we can exercise while tangibly serving others, producing something good or building community?

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