This contribution really raises the barre. By Kate Campbell:

On a cold, rainy Sunday afternoon I ventured out of the warmth and safety of my home and headed out with two friends to a new destination. Upon arrival, we were greeted by name-tagged women with perfectly made-up hair and faces, who swiftly presented us with goodie bags, carefully tied with colorful ribbon. We checked in with the lady at the front table, who with her manicured fingers typed my email into their system, surely binding me to a lifetime of email newsletters that I will forever send to spam. Another woman with maroon hair ushered us into the main room and guided us to a spot that would allow me and my friends to all sit together. We positioned ourselves comfortably as the trendy music played and the other attendees mingled about, waiting for everything to start.

Though the scene may be misleading, we were not at a trendy local church or a Beth-Moore-style women’s conference; instead we found ourselves that Sunday afternoon at a Pure Barre class. My friend Lydia had told me about it, and though I’m not usually one for opting into extra workouts, this was a free class to promote the franchise’s new location, so I said yes. We donned our leggings, sticky-socks, and yoga mats, and we ventured into the world of tank tops, tucking, and toning.

For those like me who are new to the Pure Barre scene, it’s basically a workout for people who want to really intensely work all their muscles while making it look like they aren’t doing anything. An average person walking by a class might think, “All those people are just standing around doing mini-hip-thrusts. It can’t be that hard, right?” But if you’re doing it RIGHT, it’s supposed to hurt. And for a less-than-toned, less-than-acquainted-with-the-gym individual like myself, it does hurt…A LOT. Most of the exercises are small, micro-movements that target deep muscles in your core, abs, biceps, thighs and calves (yep, we hit it all).

Pure Barre has garnered an obsessive following, nearly cultish, and I could immediately spot the true disciples upon entering the room: those wearing the authentic Pure Barre sticky socks (custom made to prevent slipping) and/or a trendy tank top with a pithy inside-Barre-joke, such as “I Tucking Love You” (‘tuck’’ is one of the buzzwords, as in “make sure you tuck that tailbone!”). I’m not one to feel insecure in new places, but here, I was keenly aware of my outsider-ness.

It made me wonder what a non-believing person or questioning Christian might feel walking into a church on a Sunday. There’s dress code and lingo (as much as we may deny it), and there are unspoken rules of conduct. You can immediately tell who’s in the club and who’s not. Pure Barre was just a little bit more direct about it. Right before the class began, they asked everyone to raise their hand if it was their first time. I proudly held mine up, unaware of the pain that awaited me. But everyone looked so cheery, so how bad could it be?

As I sat on my clearance-rack yoga mat, surrounded by tailbone-tucking enthusiasts, I was certain that I was about to sit through fifty perfectly-toned minutes of law, with a peppy instructor barking orders at me through a microphone over pulsing club music. I’ve been to zumba classes and yoga classes and step aerobic classes, and they pretty much all go the same way. You realize quickly that you are not as strong as you once were, want to be, or thought you were, then you feel shame over your flabbiness, and then you sweat your brains out trying to keep up with the stronger people around you, and then you never go back to the class again.

The instructor, a bouncy 30-something woman with a high ponytail, stood at the front and began leading us through each exercise. I was positioned behind a lady with bright neon green socks, and though I never saw much of her face, I noticed that she was completely dedicated to completing each movement and exercise. While I tapped out of our 90-second plank only 17 seconds in, she held up strongly through the whole time. While I took nearly every ‘modification’ (that’s code for cheating), I watched her legs tremble as she held each squat and pulsed each leg lift.

I picked up pretty quickly that you could fake your way through pretty much any of the exercises. You could probably get through a whole class without even breaking a sweat. You could make it look like you were doing it right without actually experiencing a single bit of muscle work internally. I think many of us are guilty of this, whether in working out or in just day-to-day life. We make it look like we are doing well on the outside, putting on a grand performance of strength and veracity, while our deeper, below-the-surface lives remain neglected, in need of so much care and tending.

What I loved about my neon-socked friend in front of me was that she wasn’t afraid to let it show when she was struggling. In fact, many of the people in the room were trembling and shaking too. Even from the front, the instructor would call it out, “I see those legs shaking, you can do it!” Struggling was celebrated. Every now and then, someone would burst out a cry of pain, but it was followed by cheers of support. There was joy in the pain, because they were certain that strength would follow it.

In Philippians, we are offered an encouragement to “work out your salvation with fear and trembling.” I think it’s no coincidence that often physical workouts are accompanied by fear (will I be strong enough? Will I look like a fool? Will my deodorant hold up?) and trembling (that shaky muscle feeling during a long plank). Does working out our salvation look all that different?

Everyday that I follow Jesus, I question the strength of my faith, and my spiritual leg muscles shake from just trying to take another step forward. And more often than not, I’m collapsed on the ground in my own sweat with nothing left to give. When I find myself in that state, this verse feels like a 25-pound medicine ball of law, loading me down with the notion that my salvation is based on my ability to work it out, which feels impossible; but what’s so important about this verse — and so comforting — is that it’s preceded by a poetic description of Jesus Christ,

“Who, being in very nature God,
did not consider equality with God something to be used to his own advantage;
rather, he made himself nothing
by taking the very nature of a servant,
being made in human likeness.

And being found in appearance as a man,
he humbled himself
by becoming obedient to death—
even death on a cross!”

Jesus, the servant king, made himself nothing, took on our humanity, and our weakness; his perfect humility and obedience is our promise that we can present ourselves, weak and flabby, before the throne of God and be accepted by grace.

At the end of the class I caught myself feeling guilty that I wasn’t as strong as I used to be. I often think some of the same things about my relationship with the Lord; why don’t I get up early anymore for quiet time? Why can’t I pray for hours on end? Why do I opt for Taylor Swift over worship music in the car? The voice of law will always accuse, so I turn to what comes next in that passage in Philippians: “for it is God who works in you to will and to act in order to fulfill his good purpose.” In the end, it’s God who does all the spiritual heavy-lifting. And He barely even breaks a sweat.