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Against the grain

Spiritual Training Cycle: Examination (wk. 2/13)

“Don’t round your back.” “Keep your core engaged.” “Shoulders down and back.” It may take a few classes before these cues get stuck in your head. As coaches, we say them repeatedly. Despite what you may think, it’s not because we’re trying to make your workout harder (that’s what burpees are for). We say them because your body is designed to move and behave in a certain way.

The dangerous thing is that your body can do all sorts of movements without proper or safe form. You can deadlift 300 lbs. with a rounded back. You can roll your shoulders forward, kipping away at pull-ups. The problem is that you can be successful doing the right thing the wrong way for a long time. But eventually, it will catch up with you. Out of nowhere, it seems, your elbow starts to ache, your shoulders are stiffer, or you’re getting an MRI on your spine. These are signs that your body is moving against the grain.

Our souls work the same way. There is a way God has shaped our soul and sin moves against that design.

Take Cain, a simple farmer and one of the first humans. He and his brother, Abel, both make sacrifices and offerings to God. God accepts Abel’s but not Cain’s. We don’t know why God rejects Cain’s sacrifice, but Cain does. Apparently, there was a right way of doing the right thing, yet Cain rejected that. He wanted the reward without following the process. God warns Cain that sin wants to destroy him. Instead of choosing to do the right thing the right way, he has another idea. If his brother were out of the picture, then God would have no choice but to accept him. Cain gives in; he chooses what he thinks is the easy way. Abel dies, Cain is cursed, and sin wins. Sin is moving against the grain of your soul.

If you’re like me, you want to have meaningful relationships with the people that matter most to you. When those relationships are threatened, our tendency might be to lie – often to protect the relationship.

For example, sometimes we lie about our needs. We pretend our needs are being met when deep down there’s a fear of being rejected. We can also lie about something unhealthy in us. Buried feelings become secrets, and instead of a relationship built on trust, lying wrecks the relationship rather than protecting it. Like rounding your back in the deadlift – you’re pushing yourself further from your goal and going against the grain.

Going against the grain can take on other forms. Like when we turn to money or an inappropriate relationship to make us happy. When we put others down to lift ourselves up. When we deceive to protect our image or our anxiety. When we cheat to get ahead and hoard our extras so that we can feel secure. Happiness, esteem, protection, security… this is what the Bible calls shalom. It is the sum of our ultimate desires because it is how we are designed.

But your soul is designed to find shalom with God. Sin is seeking shalom apart from God. Your soul is designed to receive blessings. Sin is trying to take blessings by force.

When we zoom out wide enough, we see that all our moves against the grain are selfish pursuits of happiness, love, significance, security, or peace. Opening that browser to the wrong website, gossiping about those down on their luck, overeating or over-drinking, cheating to get ahead – all of it, in some way, is the pursuit of shalom. But it is not God’s plan for shalom. And it is not how your soul was designed. Like rolling those shoulders forward, the short-term gain becomes a long-term problem.

Here’s the good news, God has grace for us. Not just forgiving bad choices, but grace to teach us new ways to handle life. New ways to pursue shalom. So much of following Jesus is learning to move the way your soul is designed. You’ll never have the ultimate satisfaction you desire in life when you find yourself moving against the grain.

Questions for Reflection:

Do you see shalom as the goal of your selfishness?

When has selfishness become the obstacle for what you most desire?

Where do you feel God’s grace teaching you to move the way your soul was designed to move?

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1 Comment

David Wilson
David Wilson
May 06, 2023

Love the thoughtfulness of this post. Not only is sin about doing wrong, but also avoiding right. Posture and technique are a great comparison here. Keep it coming!

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