Exercise. To some, it is an enemy; to others, it is their best friend. Or, if you are like me, you and exercise share a love/hate relationship. I love the exhiliration and satisfaction, the thrill of victory, that accompanies the completion of an exercise session and I love the positive effects it has on my body and mind, but exercise and I didn't always share a love/hate relationship. We were best friends growing up, somewhat enemies in college (when I gained the notorious "freshman 15"), then best friends again when I took up running and shed the weight. The Bible describes exercise in this way: "For physical training is of some value, but godliness has value for all things, holding promise for both the present life and the life to come" (1 Timothy 4:8). Let's stop there a second and draw some conclusions from that verse. This verse is found in a letter Paul writes to Timothy, whom Paul calls his "true son in the faith" (1 Tim. 1:2). He disciples Timothy by giving suggestions for living a life that pleases God. First, in the sentence prior, Paul encourages Timothy to "have nothing to do with godless myths and old wives' tales; rather, train yourself to be godly" (1 Tim. 4:7). Therefore, he implies that we should put more effort into becoming godly, meaning living a life of love, holiness, and righteousness, than we should in becoming in good physical shape. Secondly, Paul does not say that exercise is bad. There is "some value" in physical exercise, but it must hold its proper place in our lives, and for me, I've recently discovered, there is a fine line that keeps it from becoming an idol. When I allow exercise to cross the line and become a higher priority and focus than God, my family, or others, that's when I experience the most strife. Thirdly, godliness produces eternal results. My looks, health, physical condition, and earthly body will pass away, but my relationship with God and the legacy I leave for my family will last forever. So, on which one should I focus my concentration and effort?
Earlier in my post, I confessed to having a love/hate relationship with exercise. I loved it growing up; I always looked forward to practices and games alike. It was something I was decent at, had fun with, and it offered an escape from my everyday world. However, during the time I gained weight in college, topping the scale at the heaviest poundage in my life, I did not enjoy exercise because it was more difficult, obviously. I didn't look forward to it because I couldn't keep up with the pace I was used to. Then, the last two or three years of college were so stressful for me that I found running to be relaxing, enjoying, and freeing. It was a time when my mind could wonder, I could enjoy the outdoors, and I could pour my heart out to God. Coupled with my daily Bible reading times, I really believe that is where God truly became my best friend. And I shed the 15 pounds, which made me feel great! I was more comfortable with myself, altered my wardrobe to "fit" my new body, and gained more confidence. Then, I graduated college and began to work full time, teaching high school students English. The demands of a new job, especially a teaching job, were great and I definitely needed a release in the afternoons, so I kept running. I still enjoyed it, looked forward to it, and felt great afterward. I never seemed to tire. I felt like I could run forever. However, two short months after I began teaching, God rocked my world with one of the greatest blessings He has ever entrusted me with--He placed the man who would become my husband in my life. That shook up my world. I had lived with a self-centered mentality for so long, this was the next step God had for me, the next step in becoming more like Him. When I got married, I still ran. I made it a point to fit it in my schedule, even if it meant sacrificing time with my new husband. I was addicted to it. Eventually, I "hit a wall." I got burned out. We had bought a house that we planned to flip, so among renovating a house, teaching full-time, coaching part time, running, and my daily devotions with God, where was time for my husband?
I remember telling him I was going out for a run one summer evening. I got dressed, laced up my shoes, put my mp3 player on, and headed out the door, only to turn around a few steps later and return to our bedroom. I sat on the bed and said the words out loud that I didn't enjoy running any more and hadn't for some time. I didn't want to admit that because running had become part of my identity. And if I stopped running, would I gain weight again and become obese? I had an unhealthy obesession and an unhealthy fear. Running was healthy, but the place it held in my life was not. So, I did what any level-headed, strong, independent woman would do--I cried on my husband's shoulder. His response was very clear-cut and straight-forward. He said, "then don't run." He clearly didn't understand; I was confident with my body for the first time in my life and I wanted to hold on to it. I was so determined to not let myself gain weight that I would sacrifice time with my family to go for a run. I think I knew eventually I couldn't keep it up.
However, it was not until recently, just in the past few months, that God has really exposed this weakness and area of idolatry in my life. Exercise is good, yes, but not at the expense of my relationship with Him or my family, or my neighbors and friends for that matter. With all the blessings God has poured on me, my husband, a house, sweet neighbors, a daughter, etc., something must give if I am completely honest with myself and am living according to God's priorities instead of the world's. They deserve the best of me and that means allowing God to pour Himself into my life and then pouring it out on them in return. Some people won't agree, and you might not agree. People say all the time that women have to put themselves first so their health won't lack, but I know that my God, in the book of Matthew, says to "seek first His kingdom and His righteousness, and all these things will be given to you as well." That is contrary to the world's way of thinking, but it's the truth. When I put God first in my life and the values He wants me to put before myself, I don't struggle with my weight. What good does it do for me to wear a size 6 (or smaller), if I am doing nothing for the kingdom of God? The Word also tells me that it is not exercise that prolongs my life, but a reverent fear of God and the pursuit of righteousness and godly wisdom. Based on my own experiences, it doesn't matter how much I try to control my weight and exercise, I can't and even if I could, that is not what matters in this world. I am currently fasting from exercise and will continue to do so as I seek God and until I know that it will not carry a heavier weight than God in my life. I love God's promise in Isaiah when He says, " 'You are my witnesses,' declares the Lord, 'and my servant whom I have chosen, so that you may know and believe me and understand that I am he. Before me no god was formed, nor will there be one after me. I, even I, am the Lord, and apart from me there is no savior" (Isaiah 43:10-11). The Lord is my God; I will have no other gods before Him. My purpose on this earth is to "know and believe Him and understand that He is" Lord, my everything, my Savior. To that end, I am definitely an advocate for exercise, but I know, for me, that I can easily get entangled in the snares of having a certain body image and giving everything I have toward that goal, instead of toward God.