When I was staying with my parents last week, we worked out together at their gym a number of times. It was noteworthy for two reasons:
1) my parents are in their eighties, so I’m very grateful they are fit enough to stay fit!
2) we didn’t attend a gym when I was growing up, so this is new behavior relatively late in life.
To put it simply, the religious culture I grew up in was not body-affirming. I’ve now been working out regularly for more than a decade and am very comfortable in a gym. But being a visitor at my parents’ gym called attention to the small differences. At home I most often do “Bodypump” and at my parents’ gym the weight workout was called “Group Power.” The music had a familiar thump, but the beats were not counted in exactly the same way. The equipment was similar but was calibrated in pounds instead of kilos, which made it a challenge to know exactly how to load my bar. They used the bench on an incline, instead of flat, which changed how some of the moves felt.
I tried to notice what it felt like to be a visitor, each time. How did I settle into something new? What made it easy; what made it uncomfortable?
Because I’m a professional church-goer (so to speak) I like to think about what the church can learn from the common human experience of being a visitor. How can a church make that experience more comfortable?
As I reflected on my “visitor” experience at my parents’ gym, I realized that the key factor didn’t lie with the gym, but with me. The key factor was attitudinal.
After a decade of learning from different instructors at my own gym, I am learning how to receive instruction. I am learning to quit evaluating them, and instead to accept their instruction for what it is. I learn something new or different from each instructor, and there perhaps is no right and wrong.
Maybe I’m slow but I’ve finally realized: the point is not for me to internally judge the instructor’s abilities, but to notice what I can learn and let the rest go. The point is to work out my muscles.
Perhaps this sounds elementary to you; perhaps it sounds revolutionary. It is both, of course. For me, it is definitely work-in-progress.
To take this subject a bit further, I’m wondering if my tendency to judge/evaluate is simply a temperamental quality, or if it was cultivated by the Calvinist doctrine of my early life. We were taught to always be on-guard against the messages of “culture” versus the message of Christ. I believe we were even taught to be suspicious of anything from the “outside.”
If you have any thoughts on a similar experience, I’d love to hear them.
Whatever the reason for my tendency to judge and critique, I do know that letting go of that tendency in this decade of my life feels good. It feels as good as exercising my muscles! Of course, it is simply a different muscle that I’m stretching. Perhaps it’s the muscle of welcome.