Every year it’s the same. I show up at the gym on January 2, ready to exercise away the turkey and pumpkin pie consumed during the holidays. The parking lot is full . . . odd, then I realize, it’s the Resolutionaries. Wandering aimlessly with their clipboards, overwhelmed by the assortment of exercise machines, they hunt for their personal trainers to review, one more time, how many reps are in a set, or sets in a rep. Resolute to lose those unwanted pounds and committed to toning up.
At first it’s amusing, but soon the newness of the newbies wears thin and the blues set in. Impatience rears its ugly head. I love to exercise and do so all year round, although you may not know it to look at me. The same guy’s are always at the gym when I am and we have learned to avoid each other. Although I originally preferred to start my workout with stomach work, the guy with the big mustache was usually on the sit-up bench before me. I adapted my routine to avoid him and warmed up on a treadmill until he was done. My whole routine has been developed to stay out of everyone’s way and for them to stay out of mine, until January and the annual migration of the Resolutionaries. Patience might be easier if I knew these folks would stick around and become regulars, but by February most of them are gone. By March the parking lot is half-full again, the way I like it.
Last January was particularly difficult for me. A newbie clad in gym shorts, pollo shirt and black socks obstructed my every move. He either got to a machine before me or became a human shield to prevent my access before someone else got it. Several times I helped him set up a machine just to expedite the process. He tried to make small talk but “you bet” and “there you go” were the only words he got out of me. I spent twice as much time and got only half of my workout done. He even beat me to the locker room and sat on the bench where I sit, right in front of my locker. My only comfort was knowing that this guy would be gone in a few weeks. Soon he would realize that getting in shape is not as much fun as the brochures and commercials portray. Before long, just me and the regulars.
That following Sunday I was at church helping with coffee during the fellowship hour. Doing my best to make our church inviting and friendly, I meandered around the fellowship hall, “good to see you,” “glad you came this morning,” shaking hands with everyone I could. Then I saw him. Mr. Black Socks, although on this particular morning he was wearing a sport coat and slacks. I had to greet him. What if this was the first time he had come to church? Maybe he finally decided to give his life to Christ. I might have an opportunity to play a small role in his faith journey. As I made my way over to him it dawned on me, what if he had never been to a gym before and he had finally decided to get in shape and give up his self-destructive ways? For all I knew he was in training for a mission journey to go feed starving children!
I stopped for a quick prayer of forgiveness. “Lord, I know your house extends well beyond these walls, even to my health club. Forgive me for not making it a welcoming place. Help me to be a light to people who are confused and an encourager to those who wish to better themselves.”
That day I discovered Mr. Black Socks was actually named Marvin. He had joined the gym at his doctor’s request. The prescription: A change in life style to avoid the heart problems that plagued his family’s history. Marvin wanted to make sure he’d be around to finish raising his kids and have an opportunity to enjoy retirement with his wife. This change in lifestyle also included bringing his family back to church. How could I be unwilling to encourage this guy? The realization of my selfishness flooded through me. I needed to make a resolution myself.
People come to health clubs to try and improve their condition, the same reason many find their way to a church. Those of us more experienced need to share and mentor those who are struggling to improve. It’s easy to forget that the Lord has called us to be servants wherever we are. I always thought of my workouts as “my time,” apparently God saw it differently.
My resolution last year was to welcome the new migration of Resolutionaries this year, in a way, to be Jesus in sweat pants. My ministry of hospitality to them may last only a few months, but perhaps a few seeds will be planted and some healthy lifestyle choices might take root. I also want to make a concerted effort to show hospitality wherever and whenever the opportunity arises.
When Jesus said, “feed my sheep,” he meant all of them, even the ones wearing gym shorts, pollo shirts and black socks.