CrossFit and Discipleship: A Lenten Lesson on Discipline

Over two years ago I made a decision to change my physical health. Over the course of marriage, kids, seminary, and ordination I had packed on a few (read a lot) extra pounds. At a recent yearly physical I had been diagnosed as hypertensive and put on blood pressure medicine. Quite frankly I was not happy about how I felt or looked. So I did something drastic: I started CrossFit.

CrossFit is an exercise program that was created and licensed by Greg Glassman and has grown from less that 100 affiliate boxes in 2006 to over 11,000 in 2015. This program is designed around the concept that to obtain well rounded fitness workouts should consist of constantly varied, high intensity, functional movement. To accomplish this CrossFit workouts consist of various combinations of cardiovascular, gymnastics, and Olympic lifting done in daily prescribed workouts call WODs (workout of the day). These high intensity workouts often leave the participants on the floor when the workout is over.

I must admit that I had second thoughts during the first “training” workout. The coach told us that this would be the easiest workout we would do in our CrossFit training but that we would get better. I ended that workout heaving and gasping for air…but I kept coming back. I learned lots of things from CrossFit and the people who became a new community for me (I am working on putting all of that together in a longer form to share later). However, I have recently been thinking about discipline and how it plays into my life and I realized that one of the most needed things that CrossFit offered me was not the physical workout but the gift of instilling discipline into my life.

I don’t think that anyone just naturally loves discipline and seeks it out. I know that in my life I have never enjoyed discipline or being disciplined. This lack of discipline for me began popping up in other areas as well: I wasn’t on a regular pattern or “discipline” for my spiritual development, my wife and I didn’t have regular time together, and even other personal goals weren’t being realized. When I began to evaluate all of these areas the common denominator was discipline. I loved and desired to spend quality time with my wife yet often lacked the discipline to schedule it and make the time. I wanted to read my Bible and pray but my undisciplined schedule prevented me from establishing this as a regular habit. I had the tools and abilities to accomplish the goals I set yet I wasn’t on a disciplined plan and therefore I wasn’t yielding the desired results.

When I started CrossFit I discovered that the secret to success in my fitness goals and the WODs was not being the most fit or having the most natural ability. Those that had the biggest gains and made the most progress were those people who were dedicated and focused enough to be consistent in their workouts and diets. In other words they were disciplined in this area of their life. As regular workouts gradually became a part of my weekly schedule I began to see results too: my weight decreased, my body fat levels dropped, and I could lift and move more weight. However, the best result for me was at my latest physical discovering that I was no longer hypertensive and no longer needing medication. The discipline yielded results.

So how does this play into Lent? Well Lent is a liturgical season of the church where we focus on our discipleship and spiritual growth. Traditionally, Lent was the time that new converts were prepared for baptism and others were encouraged to renew their own faith. I know that many people associate Lent with giving something up, and that is perfectly fine, but I believe that the deeper meaning of this season is finding life, and that life abundantly, as we assume the disciplined life of a disciple of Christ. The things we give up might help point us to our ultimate need for Christ or free up more time of devotion and prayer, but they are also a way of disciplining our bodies and spirits to form into the pattern of spiritual development as we are listening to the Master.

Just like in CrossFit the results from a disciplined spiritual life are not immediate. They are found as we are faithful to a process. We must trust our coaches to lead us in the right paths and we can find comfort in a community of other people who are with us in the journey. Day to day we might not see dramatic change but as we look back over the months and years we can see how different we are than that person we used to be. This Lenten season I have been reminded of my own need for discipline.  The Holy Spirit has pointed out areas of my own life that need to be placed under discipline and accountability so that I can achieve the goals and dreams that I have. I pray that throughout this season I can continue to celebrate this call to discipline and not stop after the 40 days are over.


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