There is a new face of idleness and it's called "fitness." It's the reason I made the shift away from the gym and off the treadmill in favor of other pursuits and it may have somewhat to do with the mortal Savior's cursing of the fig tree.
Can you imagine a day when folks had to exercise restraint to keep from exhausting themselves doing the routine things of life like laundry and stocking the pantry (which required a heck of a lot more than a jaunt to the grocery store; i.e. plowing, harvesting, etc.)? Many of us are familiar with the blessing Emma Smith penned for herself intending her husband the Prophet to sign it upon returning from Carthage Jail. This one line gets me every time:
"I desire prudence that I may not through ambition abuse my body and cause it to become prematurely old and care-worn."
She wasn't talking about the type of ambition that drives one to train for a marathon or undergo cosmetic surgery; she was talking about the hard work required simply to sustain a household and make it prosper. She was talking about the use of her body's life energy to produce something useful for her family and others.
Is appearing "fit" as an end in itself something peculiar to our slice of the timeline? (Probably not.) What are we fit FOR, I wonder? Are we fit to look good, to be more attractive, to inspire envy? Are we fit to live longer? I would think the answer should be that we should be fit to serve God and fulfill whatever it is He has sent us to accomplish (every individual is different)...and how much of our time is necessary in devotion to that aim?
I cast my mind back to the account in Mark 11 where Jesus was hungry and came upon a fig tree that had leaves but no fruit. We are given elsewhere to understand that the fig tree is unique in the sense that at the time when leaves appear there should be fruit also, but that this particular tree gave the appearance of having fruit (because it had those luscious leaves) but actually had none. It's a powerful lesson about His feelings regarding the emptiness of hypocrisy and I cannot help observing that we experience something similar in the body-image-world-of-today where we tend to want to advertise the physiques of blacksmiths and huntresses whilst producing no tools nor anything for the table.
Interesting to me is the definition given for the verb "to idle" (referring to engines), which means "to run without being connected so that power is not used for useful work" (Merriam-Webster online dictionary). It's a tough call determining whether or not time on the elliptical or the stationary bike is producing fruit more worthy than the stuff created when we use our "power" in the house, field or garden (or even on a real bike :). We make ourselves a curiosity to cultures more grounded in stable tradition, like the French, who purportedly laugh at the very idea of our gyms.
"Cease to be idle" goes the scripture, alongside "cease to sleep longer than is necessary." One of those in-between-the lines bits of sense that seems to fit here is "cease to 'work out' for longer than is necessary to keep you fit for what your work here on earth requires of you." Or better yet: "cease to spend your strength for that which bears no fruit except the vain satisfaction of fitting into those jeans from high school." Anything beyond the sleep that your body truly needs is recreational sleeping, and anything beyond the exercise your body truly needs is merely a recreational hobby. Hobby's are great things, but they don't deserve the same chunk of time as weightier things like duty.
Personally, this elliptical lover grew disenchanted with the gym because it finally dawned on her that she could spend x amount of energy either at the gym or in the backyard but it was only in the backyard that it was possible to create something lasting for herself and her family that would also happen to overflow onto their table. Circumstances vary but it is rumored that principles do not. Does it really matter all that much?
What say ye?