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“Come on now, you got this,” I said as one of our athletes readied himself under the bar for a set of bench presses. No sooner did he start rep one then I could see pain on his face. Not good pain, the other kind. The kind that limits your progress, but also signals that your body needs attention. When he racked the barbell, I asked him my standard post-lift question, “How did that feel?” Immediately, he grabbed his right shoulder and said, “Coach, it’s been hurting right here in my shoulder for a while.” I grabbed a few dumbbells and we rolled through some accessory strength exercises designed to show me the real problem. In the gym, as in life, where it hurts doesn’t necessarily reveal what’s really hurt. In a eureka moment that only God could get credit for, I said, “Grab a lacrosse ball and lay down on your back.” I started with a foundational range of motion test that immediately revealed what was going on. I said to him, “Your shoulder may be hurting, but your shoulder is not the problem. The problem is you have a knot.

All athletes know about knots. Knots form for many reasons, so I’m not going to play exercise physiologist and lay them all out. Suffice it to say, exercise can lead to knots. Knots are hard, sensitive areas of muscle that are in a tight contracted state, even when the muscle is at rest. Oftentimes, these are the culprits of other problems, including things like shoulder pain, IT band stiffness, and a whole host of others. Knots also limit an athlete’s range of motion and can cause primary muscles not to fire. This is one of the reasons that great CrossFit gyms program so many warm-ups. Not to offend your coach, but if your gym warm-up consists of a 400-meter run and ten minutes “on your own,” I’d look around. Warm-ups are not just about building foundational movement pattern, they’re also about warming and elongating muscles. A muscle that’s primed, warm, and has been through a full range of motion will give you the best performance in a workout with the least likelihood of injury. The good news on knots is they’re responsive. Whether it’s mobility work you do, a massage therapist you see, or a chiropractor who adjusts you, knots can be resolved over time. Remember, pain reveals a problem, but not necessarily the source. If you’ve got some recurring pain, you may want to check for knots.

Knots show up in our spiritual life too. Think of spiritual knots as things in you that limit the best expression of yourself. They limit your spiritual range of motion. A full spiritual range of motion is daily communion with God. Knots in your spiritual life hinder this communion. Like the athlete grabbing his shoulder, how we show up in life may not be the real problem. Take someone who’s obsessed with social media. You know this person because they are in love with their phone. Every ‘like’ they give is a little shot of dopamine to their brain. The problem is that over time, their view of the world becomes distorted. Why? Because they’re always looking at someone else’s highlight reel. You don’t know how many photos it took to get the one on the post. You don’t know the argument the couple had right before she wrote a happy anniversary post. Social media can distort our view of reality when we tie our self-worth to it. That’s the knot – disordered self-worth. The “pain,” so to speak, is ignoring people around you in favor of your phone. And while that may cause conflict in a relationship, until you release the knot of disordered self-worth, all the time limits or rules to change the behavior won’t fix the belief. Only God can reveal and release your spiritual knots.

If you’re ready to start applying this principle to your life, here’s what you do. When you experience pain, pray for God to reveal the source. But be prepared because you may not like what He shows you. Disordered self-worth or misplaced hope or over pursuing pleasure are not the easiest things to face. You need to build a foundation of spiritual fitness before you start to engage these. You need the power of God’s Spirit actively working inside you, and that takes some level of understanding. With God’s help and through His grace, you can be free of your spiritual knots. Who knows? Now may be the moment you’ve realized the thing you thought was the problem wasn’t the problem. Let God reveal and release your spiritual knots and you’ll experience more richness and fullness in life than you ever have.

Questions for Reflection:

Spiritual knots limit the best expression of ourselves. What's one thing that limits your best expression of you?

What do you do when you see a spiritual knot in someone else’s life?

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