As part of my Lenten discipline, I made myself join a gym. For many years I have seen the Lenten fast, not as a “giving something up”, but as a “taking something on”. And this year, after being diagnosed with diabetes, I felt lead to “take on” the discipline of working on my health. The day after Ash Wednesday, made a visit to the local Planet Fitness. Did the tour. Got the application form. And went home.
Even so, I put it off for several weeks, but finally about the fourth week of Lent, I screwed up the courage to put my name on the dotted line. And the first thing I did was to sign up for a meeting with the trainer. We sat down together, and reviewed my medical history (which is complicated to say the least) and together worked out a plan tailored to my situation.
Now keep in mind that the last time I had set foot in a gym, in any capacity other than as a spectator, was a badminton class in the fall of 1975. I had almost 40 years to make up. And it wasn’t easy. The first time on the treadmill nearly killed me. I think that was the longest 20 minutes I had lived in decades. I was winded within the first three minutes, and dragged myself through the remaining 17. I looked around and saw others there *running* on treadmills and not even breathing hard!
And the treadmill was only the first part. After that I had a series of weight machines to work different muscle groups. I had to set the machines on the lightest weights to be able to do anything, and many of them I ended up being unable to complete. But as it happened, while I was there, I ran into several friends who I had no idea were members there. I didn’t want to give up in front of them! I kept at it, and made it though the first day of gym.
Now I don’t know about other gyms, but one of the things I found appealing about Planet Fitness was there motto: No Judgement Zone. No Critics. There are some members who are as out of shape as I am. There are some members who are very athletic. And everyone comes there to focus on his or her own improvement. And the only comments I have heard have been words of encouragement. “Come on! You can do it! One more!”
Isn’t this what the Church ought to be like?
The hardest thing for some people is to enter the door the first time. You don’t know what to expect. You don’t know how to act. You don’t know what do to. But wouldn’t it be nice to be greeted and “given the tour”? No pressure. No guilt. Just a welcome and information for you to know what you are getting yourself into and what is expected of you. And if you don’t come back right away, that’s OK. Give people time to come on their own.
And when you DO put your name in the dotted line, the first thing should be a little one on one instruction, starting with where you are spiritually, and tailoring your efforts to where your needs are right now. We are all on differing points in our journey. I am in better shape than some, not as good a shape as others. But we are all there to encourage one another to do our best. We are NOT there to judge or criticize. Each person comes and goes as their needs dictate. Each person consults with the “experts” as they see their own needs.
What if each congregation took some of that to heart?