Burpees, Bear Crawls, and Other Fitness Afflictions

. . . we even boast of our afflictions, knowing that affliction produces endurance, and endurance, proven character, and proven character, hope, and hope does not disappoint, because the love of God has been poured out into our hearts through the Holy Spirit that has been given to us.
— Romans 5:1-5

This reading makes me realize that my spiritual life is not that much different from my fitness life. Challenge builds endurance, endurance makes me grow, and growth brings hope.


One of my self-care practices is taking fitness classes at the YMCA. There’s something about doing a physically demanding workout that helps me to cope with difficulties in the rest of my life. One class that I just started is called Maxed Out, and it is aptly named because maxing me out is exactly what it does to me. It’s a combination of spinning on a stationary bike and the worst gym class I could ever imagine. I love it. I also kind of hate it. It’s so hard! But it’s also exhilarating. I can’t do every exercise perfectly, but I work at my own level, and I give it all that I have.

The class instructor comments on my positive attitude and points out that I’m always smiling, even when the class gets intense. I think I’m probably gritting my teeth. Or maybe I smile when I’m cheating, when I do ten burpees instead of fifteen or when I stop my bear crawls before I get to the end of the gym. Who knows, though? Even when the class is really difficult, when I’m standing upright on that bike pedaling as fast as I can, and sweat is dripping into my eyes, I feel the energy of life pulsing through me. Maybe I do smile. Something always hurts the next day, but a sore shoulder or hamstring reminds me of what I accomplished in that workout. I am getting stronger. I can do things I couldn’t before, so I am growing. And I feel alive.

When I look back through other areas of my life, I can see this dynamic at work too. Difficulty strengthens my endurance; endurance helps me to grow as a person; my growth as a person deepens my faith and trust in God and gives me hope. Hope that comes from God is not just a feeling. It’s something deeper than that, a knowing at my core that God is with me and that things will be okay, even when they look bleak in the moment.

Looking back on how this has worked in the past helps me to trust God in the moment. Hindsight is like a sore muscle. It shows me how affliction has helped me to grow and how it has brought me closer to God. It’s not the easy times that have formed me; it’s growing through suffering that has made me into the person I am. And if God worked through hard times before, God will certainly do so again.


What about you? How does this reading resonate with you?

  • When you reflect back over hard times in your life, can you see how you’ve grown?

  • What effect does affliction have on your faith? On your relationship with God? On your ability to deal with difficulty in the present moment?

  • Where do you need the gift of God’s hope in your life now?

By Sister Leslie

Sister Leslie Keener, CDP is the director of God Space, a community-building spirituality ministry in Cincinnati and Northern Kentucky. She’s a Sister of Divine Providence with a Masters in Ministry and a Certificate in Spiritual Direction and Retreats from Creighton University. She directs retreats, meets with people for spiritual direction, and serves as the vocation director for her community. She also serves on the Coordinating Council of Spiritual Directors International. She enjoys music, meaningful conversations, and dancing.