Today’s post is inspired by a message I received at church this weekend. Before you start fretting that the following words will be a biblical and self-righteous tirade, you can take comfort in knowing I most likely missed the true meaning of the sermon, and instead found a practical application to bodybuilding and fitness.

The message, as described to the children of the congregation, was that we need to change by attending church; but it has to be more than an internal change. The associate pastor attempted to explain this message to the children by providing the following analogy: You can add sugar to unsweetened iced tea, but there is no noticeable or visual change. Unlike Kool Aid, adding the sugary powder to water creates a whole new and exciting product. The children were of course finding this hard to follow, but one clever child raised his hand and said something along the of this: “Let me get this straight. What you are saying is sugar to tea doesn’t make something new. But water and Kool Aid does? Like if you put bread in a toaster. When it comes out it is something totally different.”

Yes, little boy, yes. You nailed it. That’s when it hit me. I am a piece of bread, and the gym is my toaster. Sure, what I should have been thinking is that the church is my toaster and my time spent within the holy walls would eventually transform me into a fine upstanding Christian, but then I thought some more.

We all worship and show our faith in different ways. I honestly never attend church. I was there because my children attend Sunday school when my mother-in-law attends church every Sunday. I was only there because my children were singing in front of the congregation. Take from that what you may. As macho or “bro” as it may sound, the gym is my church. All silliness aside, this is where I do all of my thinking, all of my reflecting, and all of my self-discovery. It may not be adorned with stained glass windows and statues of saints, but it is my sanctuary. The gym is where I go to clear my mind, find peace, and seek guidance. Like a piece of bread in a toaster, I go in and come out something different.

The basics of this analogy are simple. I go in, I bust my ass, I see results. For every day that I go to the gym, I leave a slightly different person – slightly stronger, slightly bigger, slightly more knowledgeable, and a shit load hungrier than I was before I went in. No two workouts are the same. Each will bring with it its own unique contribution. One lift may be more productive than the next, while another may cause an injury. Physical and mental growth is a guarantee for the dedicated.

I have said it before, but it is worth repeating. The practical applications of bodybuilding to everyday life are immeasurable. My results may not be typical, but in bodybuilding I have found and developed discipline, character, and integrity. On a more complicated level, I have come to appreciate and respect the world I live in much deeper than before. I have found my strengths and realized my weaknesses.

When I am in the gym, it is as if I am an open book. I am willing to share myself with others, sometimes sharing the most intimate of details to complete strangers. I am not there to pose as something I am not. I am there to offer myself for all that I am, hoping that somewhere along the way I will become something better. Being open allows me to welcome others and be welcomed by others. I share my thoughts, values, and beliefs; and no, I’m not just referring to aspects of bodybuilding.

Like a sponge, I am eager to absorb all that is around me. Being in a gym is a learning experience. The thoughts, values, and beliefs of those around me are very important. It helps to solidify that I am not the be-all-end-all. There are people of all types in my gym, and I can stand to learn very much. For instance, one of the guys I have come to be very friendly with has a fascinating life story. From business success to family hardships, he has shared with me intimate details that not only tell me more about him, but help me to see deeper into the person I thought I was. While mildly complaining about the stresses of my life one evening, he looked at me and responded, “I don’t like it when people complain. It could always be much worse.” He then continued to tell me that many years ago his wife gave birth to twins. One died at birth and the other was born deaf and blind. As this individual put it, hard and stressful are terms that many people never get to experience in their full capacity.

I left that night a different person. Here I was, an able-bodied thirty year old with four amazing and able-bodied children, and I was stressed and disgruntled at the delay they caused me in leaving the house to get to the gym. What an eye-opening experience – and it occurred in a gym.

There is another guy at the gym I talk to a lot. We share stories, workout hints and tips, Unknown-1and I give him a ton of free supplements. On two occasions now, he has come into the gym in a down state and reported that a friend had recently passed. I’m not exactly the best person to talk to in these instances. I have very little experience with death and have no idea where to begin to help console somebody. Regardless, this guy shared his sorrow with me and a couple of others at the gym, and we did our best to lighten his spirits. As upset as he was, he still came to the gym those nights. I’m willing to bet his attendance was more than the mere “dedication to the lifestyle.” He came to talk, to be around friendly, familiar, and caring faces. Again, I left those nights feeling like a different person. It is a sobering experience to be reminded of the fragility of life.

Many churches consider its members to be a part of the “church family.” Similarly, fitness enthusiasts across the world refer to like-minded individuals as members of the “fit fam.” The fit fam goes beyond how many bodybuilders, trainers, and fitness buffs you have following you on Twitter. It is so much more than being followed by complete strangers, 99% of whom will never say a word to you. In my experience, the online version of the fit fam is just a numbers game. The real fit fam are those that are not only there for you when you need a spot, but also when you need a shoulder to lean on. If I am not mistaken, what I experience in the gym (and what I hope to continue experiencing) is what many expect to find within the unbiased friendly walls of a church.

A church is whatever you want it to be. Just like with our fitness endeavors, you will only get out what you put in. A gym may not be the conventional image of what a church is, but in today’s crazy and mismatched world, what is? I can go to a ‘normal’ church and force myself to sit for an hour in anticipation of the free coffee and donuts afterwards, or I can go to my gym and really connect with those that share my passion and have a genuine concern and respect for me. I don’t need to sing songs from a book to show my faith and commitment to living a virtuous life.

Some people like their places of worship to be formal, while others like casual. Some like traditional hymns while others enjoy contemporary services. Me, I like to push my body to new limits where I worship. I like to grunt and swear. I don’t mind if it is loud, but I enjoy the silence. I will listen to whatever garbage they pump through the speakers. I don’t mind if it is hot and musty, and I will even tolerate the stale smell of body odor and ass. The gym has made me who I am today, both inside and out, and I proudly wear and display my results to share with the world.

Happy Lifting!

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