Fitness has become a religion of sorts for many people. We set fitness goals and seek out endurance events, such as Tough Mudder and Crossfit, to prove ourselves to others. I will be the first to admit that I relish these kinds of challenges. But what are we hoping to gain from these experiences? The approval of our colleagues and friends? As someone who works out regularly, I recently found myself questioning the real reason for my obsession with the gym. Was my inflated ego to blame? Did I need the approval of others? I concluded, sadly, that was part of my motivation.
However, I also discovered a reason to hope. I realized that there are similarities between the way I feel after a good workout and the way I feel after a powerful worship experience, whether in deep prayer or at Mass.
At first, this realization struck me as wrong somehow. God surely would not want me to feel the same way after prayer as in the weight room? I had always thought that prayer is prayer and fitness is fitness. Then, I started noticing similarities in the ways in which I behave in prayer and in the gym. First, a tremendous amount of concentration is required for communication with God. In my experience, prayer rarely comes easy, but the result is nearly always fulfilling. Similarly, my labors on the treadmill and with weights are hardly easy, yet they yield satisfaction. The harder I work at something, the more I get out of it later.
There are other similarities, too. My workouts are enhanced when I have a partner to motivate and support me. We see the communal aspect of prayer present in Mass as we come together to share the Eucharist. As we pray together in community, we can find solace and comfort in each other. Another connection: as I labor in prayer, it can become easier for me to connect with God later on, just as that weight seems to become lighter the second time I lift it over my head.
For those of us that struggle in prayer, the lessons we learn in the gym can help us at those times when God seems distant and unavailable. Routine, determination and perseverance are critical when the “results” refuse to show themselves. Sometimes it is easy to be overwhelmed in prayer, and that may be one reason some people are reluctant to pray regularly. Perhaps by thinking about faith and fitness together, we can start to see the simple ways we can grow closer to God.
Peter Welch is a student at Fordham University and an intern at America.