Exercise and its discontent

I run. Intermittently, but I do run. I ran a marathon a few years ago and I’m training to run another one in June (Utah Valley Marathon, if you are interested). I’m not always certain that this is a good thing.

One example, about a year ago, I was running around a track and listening to the scriptures on an mp3 player. At the time, I was listening to Alma 30. I realized, as I was running, that I believed a lot of things that Korihor believes. I believe that we are often pretty much on our own, that our success in life is determine by our will in a lot of things. I believe that people make up their own morality, for better or for worse. I believe that independence is a sign of mental and emotional strength. Being a mormon universalist, I also think that a lot of what we consider sin doesn’t ultimately alter our status with God.

I had to stop running. I sat down on a bench. I have thought many things about myself over the years, but I have never considered myself anti-Christ or an Anti-Christ. It came like a physical blow.

Eventually, I decided that what I believe came from what I believed about Christ and, however wayward my personal beliefs may be, I believe in Christ. I’m willing to be wrong about most everything but Him (and the Book of Mormon, but that’s not relevant). Korihor preached against Him and I don’t, no matter what. So, whatever my many faults may be, being an anti-Christ isn’t one of them. But I had to sit and go through this rationalization in order to find myself again. I feel the need to note that I felt the Spirit in this process, so I don’t think it was just rationalization, but you’ll probably just have to take my word on that.

I was reminded of this on Monday. On Monday, even though I have a cold, I ran 10 miles. Maybe running is overstating it (mostly I walked), but I traveled ten miles by foot. It took two and a half hours. I did it because I needed to do it in order to keep my training schedule up (I had slacked the previous week on my long run due to time constraints). So I forced myself to do it.

I mention this because on Sunday, with the same cold, I resentfully went to church. I thought that I was lucky that my daughter was sick, because it meant that I could come home after sacrament and switch with my wife. Because I shouldn’t have to go to church, because I am sick.

At this point in the post, I wonder what is wrong with me. I generally like church. I often feel the Spirit when I go. I also often don’t, but I do believe in the possibility that I could every time. I like my fellow congregants. Yet I thought of being sick as giving my a get-out-of-church-free card, while I also thought that I had to push through the exhaustion and run the 10 miles (okay, walk the ten miles).

I’d like to rationalize this by saying that I go to church with people, while I generally run alone, so the chance of affecting others with my cold germs is more minimal while running. But I sat through sacrament (touching the tray) and I ran in a gym (where the sweat just gets circulated around), so I’m skeptical. Also, I never consciously thought about that in any way.

Instead, I felt more obligated to exercise than I felt to go to church. That is problematic to me. It feels like my priorities are wrong. I know that I like that I can easily measure my progress in exercise. Each week I can run/walk farther and, often, a little bit faster. At church, my progress is more sputtery and less measurable. Hopefully, I get better each week, but the jury is out on that and I am a lousy judge.

I can see the changes in my body. I lose weight, my legs get stronger. Even at my best self, I’ve never seen Christ’s image in my countenance, just mine. I’m not sure that that’s something I can see anyway (wouldn’t that defeat the purpose?).

So, I continue to value the physical over the spiritual. I know that, as Mormons, I’m supposed to deny the dichotomy but in spite of my professed beliefs, my actions seem to belie that. I certainly don’t feel like I find God in running. Although, having said that, it does seem to cause me to repent.


  1. John C, I enjoyed this. Law of Mosesian slip: I think you meant “sacrament,” not “sacrifice.”

    “could come home after sacrifice and switch with my wife”

    Running is also a spiritual experience, so you’re doing OK.

  2. Rebeckila says:

    This is an interesting post. I wish I liked exercising that much. :) The things Korihor said were supposed to be close to true things, that’s how an anti Christ tricks people. At least you are willing to look at your beliefs and recognize things you want to improve.

  3. I think there’s a chance you’re over thinking things just a little.

    You raise a number of good points, all of which are worthy of both your time and your consideration. That said, the degree of angst in this post feels somewhat disproportionate to the things you set out.

    Don’t get me wrong, I think I see where you are coming from, but the level of distress you describe. I don’t know.

    I suppose I would have made a mental note to sit down and come up with some measurable and incremental measures to test my spiritual progress alongside my physical progress.

    We all feel good when we tick the boxes along the way, why not do the same with your church attendance and participation?

  4. I like what #3 said. For me, I can relate to how difficult it is to measure spiritual progress. It often seems more of an “are you ‘in or ‘out’ ” thing; you go to church or you don’t, you feel the spirit or you don’t on any particular Sunday, or you mentally (or verbally!) argue with the speaker, or you zone and try to enjoy the talk. Perhaps the reason the physical side of us can be overvalued is because it is so much easier to measure progress. Spiritual things can often be lit or snuffed out in an instant.

  5. Geoff, thanks. I’ve fixed it.

    I don’t know that distress is the word I would choose. More like consternation. I would like it if my actions better matched my ideals, but it seems that the two meet only rarely.

  6. “I think there’s a chance you’re over thinking things just a little.”

    Why do you think we blog??

    Supercogito ergo blogeo.

  7. John, one aspect that you might want to factor: When you’re a kid (most likely) you don’t want to go to church. Getting out of going to church feels like a vacation or a special occasion. Being sick – while miserable – has the small benefit of being able to say “I don’t have to go to church today”. You probably self-conditioned at a young age to think of staying home from church as a small solace from the misery of sickness.
    At the same time, you probably didn’t exercise as a kid, and didn’t reinforce the same sub-conscious ideas. Deciding to run while sick was a conscious decision, and probably one that you hadn’t made many times before.
    You’re just Pavlov’s dog. IMO.

  8. If it makes you feel any better I had a similar epiphany (not running, although I too am a backsliding runner). I re-read Bruce R. 7 deadly heresies talk and realized I believe in 2 or more of them myself, although comparing Alma to Bruce is laughable. (The talk – http://speeches.byu.edu/reader/reader.php?id=6770)

    The heresies:
    1) God is progressing (semantics but I believe the heresy)
    2) Organic Evolution (I’m a heretic again)
    3) Temple marriage assures exaltation (I side with Bruce)
    4) Salvation for the dead offers men a second chance for salvation (I’m firmly heretical)
    5) Progression from one kingdom to another (I know I’m swimming up stream here, heretic)
    6) Adam is God the Father (people believe that?)
    7) We must be perfect for salvation (I side with Bruce)

  9. Oh by the way, I had just got back from my little 3 mile run, and this was the first article I read when I sat down.

  10. I remember the day I realized that I felt more morally obligated to recycle than I did to read my scriptures. I just stopped recycling. (Just kidding. I just did less of it. You know, just to even things out a bit.)

  11. I appreciate your thoughts on Korihor, but I too think you are overthinking things. I’m an avid runner (and will also be doing Utah Valley Marathon this year!), and I don’t see a correlation between measuring physical fitness and measuring spiritual fitness. Indeed, I’m of the opinion regarding spiritual fitness that for all the spiritual “pushups” or “miles” you log through scripture reading, prayer, service, etc. you can’t necessarily rely upon observing demonstrable gains, or any clear benefits sometimes. How do you really know you are “growing” in faith or commitment over time if you are already doing most/all of what are considered the benchmarks of commitment (i.e. church attendance, temple work, etc.)? There’s no self-imposed spiritual race or test that can provide us evidence of our spiritual fitness.

    Physical fitness, and particularly fitness with a big goal in mind like running a marathon definitely has demonstrable effects on our body and minds. You feel guilty if you don’t get your workout in because you know that each workout is necessary for being able to succeed in your upcoming test, which will happen on a fixed date in the near future. Spiritual progress doesn’t really have deadlines. It’s like a long run that has no finish line. Without a goal fixed in mind, or a way to measure when you’ve reached that goal, its hard to keep yourself constantly motivated. In this way, not feeling internal pressure to get to church on Sunday isn’t evidence of a lack of spiritual devotion or progress in contrast to your clear commitment to your marathon training program. The two are too different to compare.

  12. Interesting post and good food for overactive thinkers. (#6 Kristine: LOL!)

    There’s another idea. In the case of physical conditioning, as many have said, what we measure stems from what we do.

    In the case of spiritual things, we will grow spiritually because we give ourselves up to Christ; we rely on his atoning sacrifice. It is that grace that makes the real difference in our spiritual lives far more than any checklist.

    (I do believe there’s value in demonstrating our faith by righteous living, keeping covenants and receiving ordinances, but in the end, the gifts of the spirit are gifts, not rewards.)

  13. While I appreciate all the assurances that I’m thinking too much by comparing the physical with the spiritual, I think that making them too separate does damage to the Mormon notion of the soul.

  14. Observer (f.k.a. Eric. S.) says:

    imho, i think you are just very dialed-in to why Korihor is appealing: he uses relative truths to undermine faith-based truths. in our experience, and his listeners, survival is based on our strength and genius. he is right. take a look around. so that is relatively *true*, which makes him appealing. but then he tries to use that to undermine non-relative faith-based Truths. what i’ve thought a lot about, though, is that i don’t see any conflict necessarily between his relative truths and the universal ones he tries to refute. in other words, even after all i do by my strength and genius i still don’t save myself. i may prosper. i may finish a marathon. i may “conquer” as he says and prolong my survival. but that still does not spare me from death. it doesn’t spare me from mortality. so i don’t see how believing–better yet experiencing and *knowing*–what Korihor espouses as truth refutes the need for faith. I understand he says straight away that “there is no God or Christ.” But that conclusion doesn’t necessarily follow from the foundational *truths* he uses to to get there.

  15. @Paul (12):
    “In the case of spiritual things, we will grow spiritually because we give ourselves up to Christ; we rely on his atoning sacrifice. It is that grace that makes the real difference in our spiritual lives far more than any checklist.”

    Interesting, how things that we DO becomes a measure of growth.

  16. John, I really liked this post. A quick aside, I used to run three times a week, and played hoops three days a week, and I’m sure that my wife observed that I was more committed to exercise than scripture reading. Now my knees are getting thin in natural cartilage, so I gave up running, cut back on basketball to twice a week, and swim twice a week. I really enjoy the chance to kind of put my mind in neutral and see where my thoughts go while doing the boring repetitious exercise stuff, and have had some flashes of spiritual insight on one or two occasions.

    Unlike some others, though, I think there is a strong correlation between physical exercise and spiritual strength building. Just like spending three hours at the gym once a week doesn’t do you as much good as 30 minutes a day, three hours on Sunday won’t get you to the same place as thirty minutes of scripture study, meditation, and prayer every day will.

    But like you, I think that I still find that it is easier for me to do the physical stuff on a regular basis rather than the spiritual stuff. Maybe that’s because I, like BD in #8, find myself somewhat heretical on certain topics.

  17. what is that line from chariots of fire? something along the lines of “i feel god’s pleasure when i run.”

    could it be that part of the reason you like running more than going to church is that when you run your mind is more open to spiritual insights? acknowledging that their are more effective ways for you to feel the spirit than attending church doesn’t really seem heretical. even if you feel this way (and i certainly do) attending church can still be valuable; it’s an opportunity to serve, to engage with a community etc.

  18. For me, I would say it has more to do with a break from routine than from a lack of spirituality. I can totally relate to the same feelings. As I write this I’m home with my daughter since she’s sick today. Though I enjoy my job and the people I work with, it’s nice to play hooky now and then as a break from the routine.

    I think it’s easier to stay motivated to run especially when you have a goal in mind, in this case a marathon to train for. With church attendance, there’s no short-term “marathon” goal per se, other than enduring to the end in hopes of eternal life. So the motivations are a bit different, in my reckoning.

    And for my 2c on running, I find it rewarding both physically and spiritually, as I find more appreciation for nature as I travel through it than I do in a car. It is motivating to remind myself that I am a nexus of spirit and body, exulting in an experience with all 5 senses that couldn’t be had before I came here (including the pain!) But that’s another post topic…

  19. I like madhousewife’s epiphany, and its solution.

  20. I second the comment earlier about Korihor. I think the point of an anti-Christ isn’t to say ridiculous things but to say things with a lot of truth in it. I mean who’d follow them otherwise? That said Korihor does remind me a lot of political opportunists. Of course Korihor’s position was a pure might makes right position. His argument ultimately was that because we prosper according to our ability (no place for luck or context in his thought) nothing is a crime. He’s more Nietzschean than anything. I think people tend to associate much more benign positions as Korihoric when they aren’t.

  21. Reagan Republican says:

    The elephant in the room is that Church is boring.

    When was the last time you sat in a Sunday School class without looking at the clock?

    I like to think of being Mormon as a lifestyle and not an intellectual pursuit. It’s all about clean living, not boning up on all the books sold at Deseret Book (which I find dull). I also really like the social aspect of Mormonism.

  22. RR, there’s a difference between saying church is boring, and being bored at church. The first you have limited control over, the second, somewhat more, but not completely.

  23. Korihor is a social darwinist. He is saying just as Cain did that anything is okay if it gets you gain. Those who are strong enough to take from the weak can and should do so as this is the way nature is.

    Zion is the opposite perspective, we should all be looking at the interests of our neighbor and be looking to lift the weak rather than take advantage of him.

    As far as church being boring I find that it has more to do with my mindset than anything. If I truly am hunger and thirsting after righteousness then I truly am filled with the spirit as it says in 3 Nephi.

    I do think that it is an intellectual pursuit, Just as Abraham said that he was continually seeking after greater light and knowledge we should be also. It’s done however in a slightly different way than the world as it is done through revealed and discovered knowledge.

  24. Natalie B. says:

    I have the same thoughts frequently.

    BUT, on behalf of all people who get sick easily, PLEASE STAY HOME when you have a COLD. I dread going to church in winter because there are so many sick people there.

  25. As a long time runner, I think I do find God in running. We all need time to ponder or meditate or whatever you want to call it. Thinking time. Some are able to do this easily after prayer or scripture reading, some get it at the temple, some while commuting, I get it when I run.

    I think we will always be able to see physical progress more easily than spiritual. That’s just the nature of the beast. I don’t know that there is an easy way to measure spiritual progress, and I don’t think you’re in any danger of being an anti-Christ. Just the fact that you’re concerned about it shows that.

    Good luck in your marathon. I’m going to do one this year, too, so I’ll be pulling for you.

  26. As a long time runner, I think I do find God in running. We all need time to ponder or meditate or whatever you want to call it. Thinking time. Some are able to do this easily after prayer or scripture reading, some get it at the temple, some while commuting, I get it when I run.

    Holy smokes, I agree and relate with every single syllable of an entire paragraph written by MCQ!

  27. Don’t worry Scott, no existential crisis necessary. I think we’ve established that agreeing with either me or Korihor doesn’t necessarily make you an anti-Christ.

  28. This whole post reminds me of a comment last sunday. There was a quote written in huge font on the chalk board. I didn’t totally agree with it and another lady raised her hand to make my exact concern and more, then she said, not everything said is doctrine and not every leader is worth quoting. She then inquired who had said the quote…it was Thomas S. Monson … well then. To her credit she calmly restated her opinion…then stopped.

    The teacher didn’t even understand her point.

  29. As a yoga teacher who’s an interested outsider, I’ve been impressed with Mormonism’s willingnes to continue to embrace the literal physical resurrection of both individual beings as well as the entirety of creation. This is because I realize that the physical is the primary organ through which we receive the spiritual in this realm. Mormonism’s teachings–eg, “War in heaven” and the “Plan of Salvation”–remind us that the “physical” is a necessary to salvation as the “spiritual.” As Emily D. says: “Some spend the Sabbath in Church”, some spend it outdoors with the choirs of Bobolinks. Sometimes, I’ll even take my Sabbath on a Tuesday if it suits me.

  30. I have to agree, both with the point about being conditioned to think that getting out of committments when sick is a bonus, and that spiritual and physical exercise have much different benchmarks and timelines.
    Maybe part of why there was a greater feeling of obligation tied to running than to Church attendance is the fact that often it is stressed that everything on Sunday but the Sacrament could theoretically be done away with. Yet, with running you can’t do away with the first several miles and skip to the last 1-2.
    I have to say that despite my love for the Gospel and our local church community, I do occasionally resent the three-hour block. I still go and try to get something out of it…and give something to it where I can, but I don’t know that my testimony of the saving power of the Gospel suffers for my reluctance to get out of bed on a Sunday morning

  31. If physical and spiritual development have different benchmarks–if they do indeed run in counter-consequence–I would wonder how the scripture “Run and not be weary; walk and not faint” should be received. Are the promised outcomes of adherence to the Word of Wisdom benchmarks of physical rather than spiritual development, or vice versa, or both? In other words, does the runner hope to improve primarily in terms of physicality–cardiovascular endurance and etc.; or, does the runner hope to improve along the lines of more subtle and “spiritual” or psychological improvement, in terms of acquiring different perceptions of what “weariness” means; or perhaps, in terms of their pain threshholds.
    Reading this provocative and excellent set of posts, together with the Priesthood meeting post, recall to mind Jesus’s many expressions about Sabbath observance, especially that “Sabbath is made for [human beings].”

  32. I truly believe that the physical and the spiritual are HUGELY linked, and not two separate “focuses” unless we make them. How my body feels has an effect on how my spirit feels. We all have pieces of the gospel that are more difficult to live than others. We all receive inspiration in different ways. We are all in different places. And it’s all good.
    My dad is one of the best people I know. He really gets the gospel. He really lives the gospel. He often spends Sunday School asleep in the car. He is (or was), incidentally, and avid runner (he’s almost 72 now, so not as much anymore). I am certain that he has spent more time running than he has in the temple.

  33. an avid runner. i hate it when i don’t type carefully. makes me look dumb.

  34. Being a former runner, there is an aspect of pride involved here as well. Obviously for Korihor to profess what he did there were elements of pride also. Not that I’m accusing John of it though.

    Many runners have some kind of physical and mental pride, I know I’ve been there. Even though I largely kept my prideful thoughts to myself I believed that I had more fortitude, discipline and strength than non-runners. My “excellence” was a fact, I ran a half marathon while most people never consider it. I was special and I had done it myself, every mile and step. Add to this the praise I received for losing weight along the way and running had created a small monster in me, hungry for more.

    Humility came, as it always does, with knee injuries and I had to stop running (diagnosed with ‘runner’s knee’ ironically enough). I lost a part of who I was, as well as the endorphins from running. It was a life changer to find out that MY accomplishments could so easily evaporate.

    All of that said, I agree with the comments that say that running can be a communion with God. When it’s you, the road, and long hours of training you can’t help but ponder deep things.

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