Brother Patrick Douglas, S.J., is competitive powerlifter, and he truly lives out the Jesuit value of “finding God in all things.” He shared with students five spiritual lessons he learned from the weight room.
On Tuesday, as a part of Campus Ministry’s ENGAGE programming, participants gathered in Campus Ministry for an hour of homemade food, Douglas’s lessons, journaling and faith sharing. These programs invite students to explore their faith and become more involved with Campus Ministry through a lower-commitment level event.
Douglas, or “Brother Pat,” as he referred to himself, started his talk with the first spiritual lesson he learned from the weight room: discernment of spirits. He compared life to being in the weight room because we are surrounded by pressures or spirits, and it is up to us to decide whether these pressures are motivating us for a good or bad reason. Does someone lift because they enjoy it or does the motivation come from a feeling of not being good enough?
“There’s a lot of ‘compare and despair’ going on inside and outside the weight room,” Douglas said. “Whether it be that someone else can lift more than me or that someone else has the ideal figure. But for lack of grammar, God don’t make junk. And God made you, so anything that turns you against yourself is against God and is a bad spirit.”
Brother Pat also learned how to be a coach and learn from other people. This involves acknowledging successes before evaluating mistakes, being humble about one’s accomplishments and being able to appreciate help and critiques from others.
His third lesson was the importance of a spotter. Brother Pat found that having a spotter causes something he calls “the spotter effect,” in which the lifter can lift more weight with a spotter present because they feel safer with them and can focus better. He challenged students to become “spiritual spotters” through both their actions and words in order to support the people around them.
The fourth lesson was that people grow by failing in weightlifting, and this same concept can be applied to one’s faith life.
“Heavier weight is when the form breaks down,” he said. “When we get up to the heavier weights, everything has to be right or that weight [is] not going to move. And that’s helpful to us because we see form break and then we can try to counter it and strengthen [those areas]. And we can apply that to our faith lives. Where in your faith does the form break down when things become difficult?”
And the final lesson that Brother Pat learned from the weight room was how to let your strength come from within. This involves believing in yourself and not giving up.
“Lifting, especially when it gets heavy, if you don’t believe [you can lift the weight], you’ve just added another hundred pounds to the bar,” he said. “You’re not going to budge it. You [have to] believe it [in your mind]; you [have to] believe in yourself.”
Grace Mitchell, a junior in the College of Arts and Sciences and co-leader of the ENGAGE program, finds these intersections between weightlifting and spirituality to be inspiring.
“I think the intersection of faith and anything is important,” she said. “Powerlifting is just one example, but what’s at the heart of Brother Pat’s message is that we don’t have to put faith in a box and tuck it away from the rest of our lives; God wants to encounter us through every facet of our lives, and if we’re open to that, God can use anything and anyone to speak to us, including barbells and spotters.”