Go For The Burn!

Returning to Pilates this week marked the passing of my last milestone. I am now officially back to “normal” – or as close as I ever was. I entered class tentatively, as my muscles had atrophied from two months of sedentary living. It’s amazing how quickly you lose muscle tone. It hardly seems fair after all the time and effort you exert to achieve it. And the older I get, the more time and effort it takes. Simply maintaining these days feels like a full-time endeavor.

I had my doubts as to my ability to keep up with my partners, and was a little nervous about how my recent modifications were going to fare. Surprisingly, I had no trouble keeping up and fell back into the familiar rhythm seamlessly. I wasn’t even achy the next day. Thank goodness for muscle memory. We may lose muscle tone quickly, but it also reverts rapidly when you resume your routine. I was a little over eager though, thinking if I didn’t hurt enough I wasn’t doing enough. So I took two more classes in the ensuing days. Despite warnings not to ‘overdue’ it, I was haunted by Jane Fonda’s masochistic mantra “Go for the burn!” My body finally registered the shock, and the muscle aches set in – but in a good way. It felt glorious to utilize forgotten muscles that had been dormant far too long.

I used to feel the same way in regard to my spirituality, mistakenly thinking that if I didn’t sacrifice enough, I wasn’t doing enough. My years in Catholic school installed a certain martyr-based belief system where “Go for the burn” referred to many a Christian burnt at the stake. I remember one such story about St. Lawrence and how he was slowly roasted to death. Still, he had the good humor to tell his tormentors, “Turn me over – I’m not done on this side!”

Luckily, after 18 years of Bible study, I can say with confidence that God’s love doesn’t depend on how much we sacrifice but how much Jesus sacrificed on our behalf. Salvation isn’t about our pain but His, which is why spiritual muscle memory is an essential element of the Christian journey. It’s the reason I’ve been in Bible study for the past 18 years. Scripture has become such an integral part of who I am, that even (or especially) during the times I feel distant from God, I can rely on muscle memory to direct me back into His waiting arms. My homecoming with the Bible babes this week felt even better than returning to Pilates, without the soreness.

Did you know that the heart is our most important muscle? That holds true physically and spiritually. Just as choosing to train my body prior to surgery made my recovery easier, choosing to train my mind and heart beforehand was infinitely more valuable. It’s crucial to the health of our bodies and our souls that we choose to exercise both regularly, to keep them toned and prepared to face whatever life throws at us. How you heal hinges on both.

Finally, an important component of both types of exercise is accountability. I choose to do Pilates with partners because it defrays the cost, keeps me motivated, and is infinitely more fun. The same holds true with Christian fellowship. Even though the cost has already been paid and Christ is our ultimate accountability partner, having a friend to keep you on track is vital for inspiration and is definitely more fun.

I dedicate this essay to my physical and spiritual accountability partners, too many to mention, and they know who they are. Thank you for choosing to walk beside me and encourage me to stay the course physically and spiritually. May we always choose to "Go for the burn" in the very best of ways.