Exercising in public and other methods of sanctification

by Rachel Held Evans Read Distraction Free

Thanks to the Jews, I have to go the YMCA now.

Wait. That sounds kinda racist. Let me start over.

During my year of biblical womanhood, I celebrated all the Jewish holidays, so I spent the year baking inordinate amounts of challah, learning how to turn matzah into a dessert, and drinking the required four glasses of wine for Passover. It was pretty awesome, actually. In addition to all this feasting and merrymaking, I honed my domestic skills by learning to cook elaborate, calorie-packed meals, practiced modesty by wearing elastic-banned peasant skirts (which helped those elaborate, calorie-packed meals go down a bit easier), traveled like crazy, taste –tested various incarnations of Amish shoofly pie, and spent hours upon hours at the computer desperately trying to finish my book within the same calendar year in which it was due.

Needless to say, I came out of that experience a little...lumpier....than before.

So really, it’ my publisher’s fault I have to go to the YMCA.

Or maybe God’s.

(I get those two confused sometimes.)

Regardless, it soon became apparent that my daily run was doing little to get me back into my pre-biblical shape, so I signed up for a YMCA membership.

Now, there are three things that I feel should never be done in public: nudity, teeth brushing, and exercise.

(Ask Dan about the teeth brushing thing. He thinks it’s weird that I can’t stand the sound of someone brushing their teeth, and claims that normal people don’t require their spouse to run the water and close the bathroom door when they brush, or have to cover their ears when a character in a movie has a lengthy conversation with a toothbrush sticking out of one side of his mouth...which happens WAY more often than it should, let me tell you.)

But that’s beside the point (thank goodness, because I’d really like to stop talking about brushing teeth! ugh!)

Anyway, before signing up for the Y, I had carefully arranged my exercise routine around maintaining strict privacy. I’d get on my creaky old treadmill... in the basement....put on my earphones, and spend some quality alone-time with Florence & The Machine. When friends invited me to run with them, I declined. When Dan asked me to join him in his morning exercise routine, I refused. I didn’t want anyone else smelling my sweat, or critiquing my form, or keeping me accountable, or seeing me jiggle, or hearing me breathe like an overheated rhinoceros. Struggling is something I prefer to do alone; vulnerability is an individual sport.

But now that I’m a card-carrying YMCA member, I’ve been forced to exercise in public...cause that’s sort of the point of the Y, particularly in a small town like Dayton: It’s a community.

And so I find myself jogging next to a girl I went to high school with, spinning alongside the grocery store clerk, doing pilates with my neighbors, and sharing the weight room with the intimidating fit people who I can only assume actually live at the Y.

And it’s not so bad.

Like, yesterday, in the middle of downward facing dog, I realized that my good friend Jill, one mat over, was getting a nice, uninterrupted view of my ass....complete with my faded green underwear peeking out from under my totally un-cool jogging pants that may or may not also double as pajamas. For a moment, I was horrified. This is embarrassing! I can’t do this anymore! I look like an idiot!

 But then I remembered: this is Jill. Jill, who I’ve known since high school; Jill, who could tell you every stupid crush I had as a teenager; Jill, who has seen me cry like a baby and dance like a fool; Jill, who has prayed with me and struggled with me and grown with me for years. Jill’s not going to judge me because I’ve got faded green underwear and a challah-like thighs. Jill loves me for who I am, and if she didn’t, she would have checked out of my life a long time ago.

And so I held that pose like a pro—belly-button in, hands pressed into the ground, ass high. Right there in front of God and everybody.

What I’m learning at the YMCA is that the biggest obstacle to becoming a part of a community is fear of vulnerabilityIt doesn’t matter how much I am loved or how much I am wanted—if I don’t allow myself to be vulnerable, I can’t really connect. I can’t hold that pose.

I’ve see this play out in my various faith communities through the years. I’ll talk a big game about sharing life with fellow Christians, but then I’ll avoid inviting friends over for dinner until the house is clean, or I’ll write down other people’s prayer requests without volunteering any of my own. I’m back on the treadmill in the basement—where no one can watch me struggle, or notice my imperfections, or correct my form, or keep me accountable, or slow their own pace so I can keep up.

When Jesus was criticized for hanging out with sinners, he liked to remind the religious leaders that “it’s not the healthy who need a doctor, but the sick.” Unfortunately, we Christians have gotten pretty good at masking our coughs and hiding our tremors. But healing was never meant to happen alone. And just as we can’t wait until we’re fit to go to the Y, so we can’t wait until we’re sinless to hang out with other Christians, to be part of a community. The point is to get “fit” together.

So the YMCA has reminded me that I’m sick...well, mostly that I’m totally out-of-shape, but also that I’m sick and in need of a savior and a community.

Let’s just hope all this community exercise will cancel out all that community eating.

What have you been learning about community lately?

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