I have a confession to make – I’m a youth pastor who hasn’t been a big fan of “Gym Night”. The one night each month where I don’t get to talk in depth about scriptures, or spend time in small group conversation, or lead teens in extended moments of prayer. The purpose is plain: invite your friends, reach out relationally, play together.
But God’s been reminding me of some important aspects of what “Gym Night” can offer. In a world that increasingly treats our bodies as objects that we’re meant to/encouraged to shape and mold as we see fit. Where pursuits of beauty and athletic ability make any pain and sacrifice worth the “gain”. Where we’re encouraged to prove we’re not aging, and our young people are encouraged to prove they can ______ better than ________.
There are very few, if any, places our young people (or older people) can go these days to simply have fun. Places where it’s safe to fail, and you’re embraced as one who is beloved. Youth group gym nights at their best can be a safe place for play to happen. Often providing games/experiences that are either too unique or goofy for anyone to brag about their innate or developed skill at them. (Sure, they’ll still try to brag they’re the best at smacking your feet with a pool noodle….but just stare at them and smile for a while….they’ll come down from the pedestal.)
In his book “Ethics of Hope”, Jurgen Moltmann reminds us: “People who feel that they are accepted and loved can also accept themselves and their bodies as they are, and as they become as time goes on. The experience of the divine love makes the believer not only ‘just’ but also beautiful……The incarnation of God has really already given us a counterimage to the modern ‘human being as machine’ and to the artificial products of ‘performance’ and ‘beauty’. God became human so that we might turn from being proud and unhappy gods into true human beings.”
This hits home also as a parent, watching my daughters learn to play games and dress-up. They’re so talented and beautiful. But not because they can do an amazing “grande jete'” or because they share a rich inheritence of physical beauty from their mother. (although both are true) They are beautiful and valuable because they are loved by God. To pursue beauty or value from any other source is to participate in a reality we don’t believe exists. An economy already proven bankrupt in the broken and ugly crucified Christ.
So if you come to one of my gym nights, you’ll probably find more pool noodles, balloons, and nasty foods than basketballs. If you visit my home you’ll probably find my daughters dressing up like Fancy Nancy more than Barbie. And if you stick around either, you’ll find people who are learning how to exist genuinely as those Christ has called His “Beloved”…