Jesuit Gardens: Spiritual Lessons from the Weight Room

Jesuit Gardens: Spiritual Lessons from the Weight Room

By Blake Ursch

As a man of faith, Brother Patrick Douglas, SJ, is all too aware of spiritual problems in the world that are out of his control.

He sees them on the news. He hears them from people who ask him for prayers.

“When I have parents that are coming to me, asking me to pray for their sick baby who is hanging on by a thread, I do pray for them, and I do trust the Lord in that,” Br. Douglas says. “But then what do you do with those feelings? … I take those on. What do you do with all that weight?”

In his case, lift it.

Br. Douglas, vocation director for the Midwest Jesuits and a member of the Jesuit community at Creighton, is an award-winning competitive powerlifter. He coaches students at the University and at Creighton Preparatory School, a Jesuit high school in Omaha, where he serves as assistant coach for the school’s state title-winning powerlifting team.

Weightlifting, Br. Douglas says, has given him opportunities to express his faith and to share Christ’s teachings with others.

“The powerlifting community is small enough that … I see a lot of the same people. They know I’m a (religious) brother, and they will often come and talk to me about struggles they’re having with faith, or family or whatever it might be,” Br. Douglas says.

An Omaha native with degrees in social work and sociology from the University of St. Thomas in St. Paul, Minnesota, Br. Douglas first began lifting when he was 20. He’s found that the sport can be a vehicle to discuss important spiritual concepts with students, competitors and others, both in and out of the weight room.

“Especially with young college students, there’s this terrible pressure and a fear of failure. Well in weightlifting, we go to failure all the time,” Br. Douglas says. “Failure can be frustrating, but we don’t have to be devastated by it. I can take feedback in weightlifting in ways that I can’t in other parts of my life. If my coach tells me my elbows are flaring out on my bench, and that’s why I missed it, I don’t feel like a bad person because my elbows were flared.”

In the same way, he says, when we feel like we don’t measure up in some aspect of our lives, such as our relationships with others, we shouldn’t be too harsh on ourselves. We should examine the situation like a practical problem to solve.

Lifting also provides an example for how we can encourage and nurture friends and family spiritually, he says. In the gym, spotters are unfailingly positive.

“Look to be a spiritual spotter in your relationships with a faith community,” he says.