Faith and Fitness event – will you join me?

The woman issued the commands. ‘Arms, body, legs, body, arms!’ No, this wasn’t some strange version of heads, shoulders, knees and toes, rather this was me attempting to learn how to use a rowing machine. The voice was that of Susan my personal instructor as she gave me the sequence of steps for efficient and effective rowing. As in all things, it’s form before flow.

Susan celebrated with me when I remembered and my body obeyed. In a state of bliss I would repeat the moves more quickly and my technique would collapse faster than a toddler with a Jenga tower. Susan would smile in solidarity but my inner sense of failure put a cloud between me and her positivity. I haven’t been trained before, I have unwittingly adopted a series of bad habits over the years which like old steel bolts have rusted into place, and are proving hard to adjust or remove.

A couple of weeks ago I sat in the school ‘oh what a pity room’ in front of a family support worker. The ‘oh what a pity room’ as I call it, is the room in our local primary school where parents going through a difficult time sit with specialists. The room is has a round table, bright lights, and large glass windows to showcase to passing adults and children those parents in a spot of bother.

You would be forgiven for thinking I was there in my professional capacity as local pillar of the community. I could have been there taking notes so I could signpost ‘parents in peril’ to this valuable service.

But no, I was shifting in my seat, hoping to be incognito in that bright fishbowl, getting hot under my dog-collar as a recipient of parenting skills. I had thought this woman would be focusing on tricky behaviour from my children; but she was more interested in my behaviour.

‘Arms, body, legs, body arms!’

As I was led to consider my actions and reactions, I realised I have patterns of parenting which have rusted into place – and I need a coach to help me literally loosen up. My distressed child may be mirroring and/or amplifying a distressed parent, which is me. The pain of beginning again, to learn better parenting strategies is chunky and feels unnatural. I am a self-conscious actor who has to keep referring back to the script. This course I am on will take me to my limits. As in my 5/5 fitness drive I’m being asked to dig deeper, and fail faster, in order to jump higher and push further. It is hard work. But both the task of becoming a better father, and a fitter father feels like an uphill climb with no summit in sight.

Although for the fitness drive the pressure is on to remain consistent and constant guided by my coach.

The lessons I am learning in one context informs another. As a priest I coach others to bring the best out of themselves, but all to easily I speak from the place of the expert not the beginner. Unless I can accept I will fail and need to fail often, I will seldom succeed. The mythologist, and thought leader Joseph Campbell was quoted as telling people to ‘follow their bliss.’ He was disappointed to learn that phrase had been understood to mean choose the easy options. He is later reported to have said:

‘I wish I had told people to follow their blisters.’

My idealised fit and healthy lifestyle, my harmonious happy home lies on the other side of committing to new routines, being honest when I fail, then beginning all over again. I have learnt I need a coach as without the foundation of the right form, I will rarely find the flow.

I hope to see some of you at the faith and fitness conference, the challenge of sustainable health is having an impact in all areas of my life. It is a worthy pursuit. Will you join me?

The Revd. Azariah France-Williams, workshop leader at Faith and Fitness, and Anglican Priest in the Diocese of Southwark