There's nothing comfortable about our basement. The man cave is not equipped with a high-def TV or EZ chair, X-box or pool table. Walk upstairs and help yourself, because there's no fruit bowl or mini fridge.
But there is a barbell. And a bench, a few dumbbells, weight plates, and a 90's-era CD player. A lot of discomfort takes place here. Whenever possible, the workouts blow through the back door into the “green room” too. The green room offers graded surfaces, rocks and obstacles (including children) to accommodate plenty of running, jumping and throwing. It’s mostly play there in the back yard, but the heart still gets pumping.
As a physical therapist, I admit that any physical activity is better than none at all, and those with medical conditions need to use precaution. But to the rest of the relatively able-bodied among us, I need to mention the importance of suffering.
Every worthwhile form of exercise delivers some degree of beneficial misery. So in whatever activity you enjoy, or at least tolerate, let breathlessness affirm you and sweat be your guide. Count these as joy.
While discomfort aids us, the modern gym’s smoothie bars and cardio theaters and fancy chrome exercise gadgets are like bloodletting for the anemia of modern times. To miss out on the discomfort of physical activity is to miss the full dose.
Scientists have examined the beneficial short term effects of exercise on brain chemistry. They’re now finding that routine physical effort actually remodels the brain in a way that makes us better able to handle psychological stress.
Does discomfort ignite that leap from body to mind? I haven’t found specific instructions on how much exercise intensity this leap may actually require. But you can bet that it’s going to take more than twenty reps on the Thighmaster or a stroll on the recumbent bike while reading Newsweek.
In the quest for improved confidence, cholesterol and toned abs, I’d like to have it quick and easy. But I have to consider the real possibility that there is value in the journey and treasures that cannot be bought or caught any other way. So a few friends and I descend to the basement two or three days each week, where we talk about life and get miserable and gain some perspective.
I’m not sure if the benefits of physical discomfort flow from body to spirit in the same way as they do from the body to mind. If disciplined physical effort can alter the way we think, can it also help us develop the spiritual strength and grit necessary to take up our crosses daily? Heavy weights lifted in the basement are but a feather compared to an endurance run of selflessness. But maybe this uncomfortable practice helps.
The thing is, I want my spiritual life to be in shape too. I want to exist in a state of shalom. I want to love deeply and give generously and do the will of God. Yet I’m afraid that none of this will come quick and easy. Was it C.S. Lewis who wrote that feeling the hurt is the best indication that you’re giving enough?
Even then, I wonder if unwavering intimacy with God is even possible for those who haven’t been forced to lean hard into him in desperation. I’m thankful for having a relatively comfortable life; not yet having to experience deep hurt and trials. But is this partly why - even in my disciplined attempts at Bible study and prayer and service and lifting heavy iron - I rarely feel mature, complete, in tune with the reality of my weakness?
- Is intimacy with God possible without having gone through extreme trials?
- In the physical and spiritual climate of today, how counter-cultural is the intentional embrace of discomfort?
- How has God called you to get less comfortable?