Faith and Fitness: Some Unexpected Lessons

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.

Advertisement

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.

Comments are automatically closed two weeks after an article's initial publication. See our comments policy for more.
Shirley Moon
2 years 11 months ago
I feel worshiping our own health is worshiping God. But prayer and fitness are different things.If we will be honest with our health and fitness, we will be honest with our God. I think Working out at gym with a gym partner and being honest in achieving our body building goals will really help us to feel fresh and calm.
Paul Cudahy
2 years 11 months ago
After working out at the gym, I have the same good feeling. I'm happy and content. Similar feelings come over me after participating at Mass and receiving the Holy Eucharist. I have not made this connection before. thank you.

Advertisement

Don't miss the best from America

Sign up for our Newsletter to get the Jesuit perspective on news, faith and culture.

The latest from america

The establishment and free exercise clauses prohibit the government from impeding or requiring observance of any religious holiday, including Christmas.
Ellen K. BoegelDecember 12, 2017
Newly ordained Bishop Paul Tighe, a priest of the Archdiocese of Dublin, greets the faithful during his ordination to the episcopate in St. Peter's Basilica at the Vatican Feb. 27, 2016 (CNS photo/Paul Haring).
Bishop Paul Tighe, the secretary of the Vatican’s Pontifical Council for Culture, has been called “the Vatican's nicest guy.”
Bill McCormick, S.J.December 12, 2017
President Donald Trump waves to supporters during a rally in Pensacola, Fla., Friday, Dec. 8, 2017. (AP Photo/Jonathan Bachman)
Fewer Americans believe in the biblical Christmas story and a growing number are opting not to attend church services.
Michael J. O’LoughlinDecember 12, 2017
The Trump administration has made clear its principles on immigration; Catholics should answer with a list of ways to reform the system with fairness and humanity.
J. Kevin ApplebyDecember 12, 2017