I enjoy working out. After my second child, a switch flipped in my brain and I started lifting weights and changing my eating habits. I think we hear about those kind of transformations all of the time but I’ve learned that training my body and mastering my eating habits also had a profound affect on my spiritual life.
We suffer from a grave disembodiment. We tend to believe that our hearts, our souls, our minds are somehow altogether separate from our bodies. I would argue that they are altogether the same. Our inner life is often reflected from without, and the same can be said in reverse. When we are heavy of heart, we may expound this externally—binging on food (hello, pint/gallon of ice cream) or listening to sad music. When our heart is light, we do the opposite. There is a sense of incredulity when you see someone urging others to give all that they have to holiness when they cannot apply that discipline to how they care for their bodies.
What care are we called to? As with all things, we must operate in “reality as given,” and Christ rarely asks contrary of us. For instance, I have four children under the age of seven and a profound love for writing/theology. I rarely make time for more than an hour in the gym. Even that can be scarce at times. I won’t be training for Olympia or the NYC marathon anytime soon. That’s my “reality as given,” and I’m sure yours is different.
When St. Paul wrote “I beat my body into my slave,” I’m sure he wasn’t speaking of hitting the local gym as much as the spiritual asceticism that even Pope St. John Paul II frequently spoke of as self-mastery.
I remember speaking with my doctor about all of this—fitness and the like. He told me that he struggled with the eating part. He didn’t like the idea of “depriving” himself or the monotony of repetitive meals. I invited him to change his hermeneutic. There’s really no deprivation or monotony if we view it all as simplicity and discipline. Simplicity of life without beckons us into deepening our inner life.
Now, the flipping of my switch that I spoke of didn’t come without suffering—cravings that I chose not to fulfill, painful soreness after moving up in weight on squats, etc. Great love requires suffering. That suffering begets humanity. Even the science behind muscle building requires a breakdown of muscle fibers. And that “breaking down” makes something stronger, just like suffering actually restores our harden hearts with “natural” hearts. Suffering makes way for love.
Ratzinger wrote, “When we know that the way of love—this exodus, this going out of oneself—is the true way by which man becomes human, then we also understand that suffering is the process through which we mature. Anyone who has inwardly accepted suffering becomes more mature and more understanding of others, becomes more human.”
Suffering over a spin class and suffering of spirit may seem vastly different, but taming my flesh has taught me a lot about taming my soul, and it has given me the greater gift of praxis that otherwise I have not. All things point to Christ, and all things that we give credit to the world for are meant to be redeemed for him —even what we eat and even more so how we treat this body that was made to worship him. All for Christ! Everything.
Rachel Bulman is a wife, mother of 4, speaker, and blogger. This post is found on the Word on Fire website and used with permission. Find more of her work at RachelBulman.com.