The Gospel According to the YMCA (or, What the Gym Taught Me About Grace and Prayer)

I go to the gym early in the day.  Most days, I am struck by all the body types around me, quietly doing their thing on machines and with weights.  These are not young, buff types, not at that time of day.  These are normal-looking, working folk, like you see in WalMart or at Kroger.  There are as many shapes as there are people — all interesting, none air-brushed.

On our respective machines, we move at different paces.  Some are obviously just beginning this fitness journey, probably because a doc told them they should invest either in a gym membership or a cemetery plot.  Those folks are lucky to make it a few minutes on a machine before they quietly head over to the coffee pot.  Others have been at it a while and seem hardly to break a sweat after an hour of flailing around on whatever their contraption of choice is.

If you were looking critically at the collective group of us, you’d wonder why we bother. Most of us are normal, middle-aged people; we don’t look “fit,” not on the face of it.  But we’re there.  And more and more, I believe that’s what counts.  Being there.

I’ve decided this much — if you’re inside the gym walls you deserve not to be judged, no matter what your shape or pace.  I want this mind to be in me, that I am able to look at anyone in that room and default to this: “At least you’re here.  And because you’re here, you’ll get only mental high-fives from me.  No judgment, just grace and prayer.”

What I’m learning at the gym informs my view of those inside my church.  They also are normal people who come in every spiritual shape, who go at every spiritual pace.  They move at different speeds and make progress in varying degrees.  Some are more comfortable near the coffee machine; others have more spiritual stamina.  On the face of it they may not look like much, but those who make it in, whether they come sprinting or fall across the threshold, deserve not to be judged.  At least they are there.

This was the gospel preached to me from the vantage point of my elliptical this morning so today – on the strength of that good word – I make this fresh promise to the people who will show up in my church on Sunday:  “No matter what shape you’re in or what pace you’ve set for yourself, because you’re here, you’ll get only mental high-fives from me.  No judgment.  Just grace and prayer.”

So be it. 

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