The interview is today. You try on your favorite suit – the magic one that transforms your Adam Sandler silhouette into the double of David Beckham – and discover that it no longer fits. The waistline is like a tourniquet restricting any blood flow to your legs. Finally, you are convinced. Your wife is right: it’s time to start working out again after a ten year sabbatical also known as having kids.
Yet, before breaking a sweat you decide to do some informal research. You go around and gather fitness tips from friends and colleagues at the water cooler, after church, and in the park. First, you talk to Steve. Steve is an amateur power lifter and looks like Vin Diesel’s big brother. With the enthusiasm of a Star Wars nerd describing the planet Tatooine, Steve gives you a list of strength exercises that are, in his stout opinion, the sine qua non of fitness.
Next, you see Jim in the grocery store. Jim burns through running shoes at the speed most people go through tanks of gas. His life goal, judging from the number of t-shirts and windbreakers he owns, is to run at least one marathon in every small town across the Continental United States. Like a pent up river, Jim floods you with information about the importance of rotating between cycling, running, and swimming.
Soon thereafter Phil stumbles into you at the carpool line. Phil is a devotee of ‘Natural Movement’, a fitness program invented by a Frenchman who believes modern people ought to rediscover the authentic movements of their ancestral ape-parents. By the time the school bell rings, he has you believing that true fitness is swinging from a tree by one arm and one leg, loincloth optional.
And so the pattern continues. Martha, while dropping off some books, gives a brief homily on Yoga, swearing that without sensual breathing in bellbottoms no fitness regime is adequate. Finally, your Bible study leader, Bob, a former college linebacker yet to recover from not being drafted, emphasizes the need to pair muscle strength with speed and stamina. High intensity interval training, aka HIIT workouts, is his mantra.
What is the result of this research? You feel overwhelmed, order a pizza, and watch reruns of The Simpsons, trying to persuade yourself that there is no shame in looking like Homer.
But the next day something happens. While watering the flowerbeds, Tim, your neighbor, comes over to chat. He is a PE coach at a local public school. You share your frustration regarding the tortuous amount of information on the topic of physical fitness. Tim concedes the point but then turns the conversation a novel direction.
Unlike everyone else, Tim doesn’t begin with random tips or long lists of to-dos. He begins with theory. Fitness must be understood as a holistic concept, he says. He breaks fitness down into five basic areas – body mass, muscle strength, muscle stamina, cardio, and flexibility – and explains both what each area is and why it is important. As he talks you feel both a mental fog and an emotional anchor begin to lift. Even better, after a cursory scan, Tim asks you what your fitness goals are. Ten minutes later the two of you are sitting down at the dining room table in front of a legal pad working out a regimen for the coming months.
For too many guys pursuing spiritual fitness is like choosing an entrée from Cheesecake Factory – a paralyzing choice with too much information and too little guidance. While one Christian group beats the drum of the need for intimacy with Christ, another fixates on in-depth Bible study, while another on daring faith, another on intercession, another on mercy ministry, another on dogmatic theology, and so on. The end result is that guys feel like spirituality is a test of being able to juggle as many spiritual bowling pins as possible while working a day job.
Fortunately, there is another method available. What men need is the opportunity to step back and see the big picture of what spiritual fitness is, to break spiritual fitness into a handful of key areas, and – only once this vision is clear – to do the practical work of planning next steps.
If you would like to hear more about our model of spiritual fitness, sign up for our newsletter below. We believe ambiguity is one reason why men struggle to mature spiritually. Until the objectives are clear, the path is obscure. Therefore, we make it our aim to provide guys with a simple itinerary that indicates the milestones and final destination of spiritual growth.
*The title of this post is taken from Chip and Dan Heath's book, Switch, where they helpfully describe the way that ambiguity can frustrate motivation.