Until the age of 30, when I gave birth to my daughter, I loathed exercise. I sucked it up though all my school gym classes obeying gym teacher’s commands, but I hated it. My natural exercises of bike riding, skate boarding, softball and running around my neighborhood after school were fun. Organized fitness made me want to punch somebody. I still struggle with repetitive activities.
During the sixties, we endured the “President’s Fitness Challenge” in which we were forced to perform jumping jacks, sit ups, pull ups, rope climbs, etc. ad nausea, in front of our whole class. As a skinny, strong girl, I always performed well but my boredom meter stayed in the red zone.
Left to my own devices in college and my early married years, I ignored entire muscle groups completely along with flexibility or aerobic training. I still played softball, rode my bike, danced in musicals and marched with flag corps, but did nothing else to deliberately maintain my cardiac system or other muscles. Once we entered the ministry, that became my great excuse. “I’m waaaay too busy to make time for fitness classes,” I used to boast. Since my skinny bod lasted through my twenties, I ignored the concept of keeping God’s temple in shape. Then, pregnancy crashed my world.
True story: I began uncontrollable vomiting from pregnancy nausea only three weeks in. Minus today’s technology, we assumed a virulent flu to be the culprit. I lost 25 pounds in three months and spent much time hospitalized for dehydration. By the end of the fifth month, the nausea came under control but in my body’s weakened state, I only possessed energy to regain my home life, ministries and prepare for a baby. Exercise never entered my thinking.
I cannot explain why my daughter, who as an adult, is three inches shorter and three sizes smaller than myself, presented as a giant nine-pound baby. My slim hips and her large, infant self didn’t mesh well and my hip bones became pushed out to such a degree, I climbed three pants sizes and stayed there for years. For me, a former skinny who never deliberately exercised, this became a challenge.
In the eighties, aerobic dance classes popped up everywhere and I loved them! I transformed into someone who jazzercised for hours every week. I embraced step aerobics too and eventually weight training, mainly because my aerobics teacher recommended it. My schedule became structured around available classes and gym hours.
Strategic, deliberate exercise is a wonderful thing, but for me it became an idol. The reason comes down to the motivation that changed me from slacker to fitness fanatic. My desire came from an obsession about my appearance. I wanted my skinny body back. I didn’t make the connection between my ability to achieve God’s purposes for me on this earth and staying fit and strong. For me fitness and self-esteem became intertwined in an unhealthy way.
There’s a popular saying right now, “Know your why.” Your why is what will carry you through obstacles and tough times towards your goals. If your “why” is faulty, it will fail you in the clinch. Mine did. I became sick of spending so much time exercising and still being larger than what I desired. Took me some years to understand I desired the wrong thing.
I think we can look to Jesus’ earthly life as a healthy, fit one. Think about it. He walked, like everywhere. He didn’t give way to the sins of gluttony or drunkenness which means he ate and drank only to suit the needs of his human form. His strength to minister to thousands of people flowed from this balanced life, centered on listening to the Father then carrying out His will.
For a Christ follower, we need to live in the humble truth that we no longer belong to ourselves. We are mere stewards of everything in this life, including our bodies. Lately, I’ve been struck afresh by the profound truth that the Holy Spirit lives inside me. My personal body resources and its abilities are now stamped as exclusive for God’s work. That’s the definition of holy. The question is, how am I stewarding this holy, set apart temple?
Before you jump into any new exercise program or carry on with whatever one you might be involved in, I want to challenge you to ask yourself this question: “Why am I doing this?” You may need to sort yourself out a bit, as I did. It isn’t wrong to want to look fit and wear clothes better. It’s not sinful to desire the strength and endurance to run with children or move your furniture around without killing yourself or survive a mission trip in a third world country. These are all good motivators, they just can’t be your primary instigator.
Foundationally, everything we do with our bodies must be inspired by the power of verses like Romans 12:1. “Therefore I urge you brothers and sisters, in light of God’s mercy, to present your bodies as living sacrifices….” This means we daily crawl up on an altar and lie down. No squirming. Choose to submit to His plans and goals for your inner and outer self, above all else. Then, listen, listen, listen to what He says or you might become out of balance, like me.
Jesus is coming soon! He’s looking for last day saints, fit and fiery, ready to take adventures with Him in strategic prayer and ministry opportunities.