Dave Brenner, Word on Fire intern and seminarian for the Archdiocese of Chicago, offers his spiritual analysis of the popular P90X fitness regime. Read Dave's assessment of the program's 3 most applicable life lessons below.
Personal and spiritual growth, change and development are attractive abstract concepts but the last three weeks have reminded me of their difficulty in application. As a seminarian, my next 6 years are all oriented toward “formation” – I’m to conform my mind, body, heart and soul to the person of Jesus. Through the daily routine of prayer, class, exercise, camaraderie and service I am to deepen my connection to Christ so I can reflect His love in the world. From the outside looking in, this was the appealing aspect of seminary – it was an opportunity to grow by leaps and bounds toward the person I am clearly called to serve.
From the inside looking out, it’s a struggle of my will against a plan that’s meant to change, that is to form, me to become something more than I am today. My will inserts itself with innocent sounding questions that hypothetically pose - I’ll pray but does it have to be at 7am? This class is a bit slow, can’t I just read the book and take the final? Can I switch my service assignment with someone so I don’t miss a football game?
The insight leading to consolation came through a Facebook post. A friend and former classmate commented on a new P90X DVD program that is being released. Along with 7 other classmates, we had completed the original P90X program, which is an intense 90-day workout program. The dude (trust me, he’s a “dude”) leading the program is named Tony Horton. Despite his over-the-top caricature of a personality, he offered some real insight that applied to my present situation and to the spiritual life more broadly. Like a drumbeat, he consistently hit these phrases:
“Do your best, forget the rest” – This is a piece of comprehensive wisdom away from distractions and toward fulfillment of your calling. It’s tempting to look for validation based on comparisons with others, “I’m doing more [insert: service, prayer, push-ups etc…] than him so I’m doing great.” It’s equally tempting to get overwhelmed by the difficulties, “I’ll never be able to [insert: write, serve, lift that much weight etc…].”
That’s not the point! There’s neither a competition nor an endpoint in spirituality (or weightlifting for that matter) and if we think of it that way we’ll either be filled with pride or despair in short order. The point is to allow Christ to be the one driving our life and this will drive two points of spiritual clarity – “Doing my best” is simply responding to the initiative of Christ and “forgetting the rest” is moving past the temptations to pride, despair or other distractions that block Christ’s life from becoming your own.
“I hate it, but I love it” – This point acknowledges the conflict between our lesser desires and higher desires. After the initial zeal of exercise wore off by day 10, there were very few workouts in the P90X program that I was excited to attend. My stomach would start doing flips an hour before each session began because I could foresee the difficulty ahead of me. However, there were also very few workouts that I didn’t enjoy 25 minutes into it. I was even grateful for every workout an hour after it was over.
And so it goes with formation and spirituality – there are all these things I simply do not want to do in the way proscribed to me (go back to my “innocent” questions). BUT, there are noticeable graces that come from early prayer, imposed patience and sacrifice. If we consistently listen to that lower stirring in our heart, we will not experience the blessings or the outcomes we deeply desire in becoming fully alive.
“It’s fun to workout with friends” – This is a simple point but it’s as critical to the spiritual life as it is to maintaining a workout routine. You cannot do it alone. If I didn’t have my 8 classmates as workout buddies emailing the workout schedule for the week, texting me with bits of humor and motivation or encouraging me during pull-ups and sit-ups then I never would’ve finished the program. The point couldn’t translate more closely to the spiritual life – we all need direction and support. St Bernard makes the point rather bluntly, “He who makes himself his own spiritual director becomes the disciple of a fool.” One must be proactive in seeking this support whether it’s with a spouse, friends or formal faith-sharing groups and spiritual directors.
Finally, it’s interesting that more than 3MM copies have been sold of P90X in just the last couple of years so the program must be doing something right. I know that I got into it because I heard from multiple people that it was, “amazing” and “life-changing.” It’s an interesting thought experiment on what would happen if we unpacked this latent wisdom of the Catholic faith and spoke of it with passion as something that is truly life-changing.
Dave Brenner is an intern at Word on Fire Catholic Ministries and a seminarian for the Archdiocese of Chicago.