Ever feel like you’re sitting on the sidelines in the fitness world? Pass the popcorn.
My freshman year of high school, I joined the track team. I had never been too interested in other team sports, so I felt like I finally found something that was a good fit for me. Just a couple weeks into training, I was added to the Varsity team, which was pretty rare for a freshman, and the head coach called me “a diamond in the rough.” But, as I continued to train and push and race, it became clear I was facing a challenge I hadn’t anticipated. I have asthma. Specifically, exercise-induced asthma. I was diagnosed in the middle of my track career, and that– plus a rough, recurring injury– pretty much ended my running days early.
For a long time, I battled with figuring out what that meant for me fitness-wise. The challenge of breathing became too large of an obstacle for me to continue running. I kind of like my oxygen. Over the years, I tried many different ways to exercise, but mostly found myself miserable. I get pretty nasty with my family and myself when I go down that road. I began to realize, and accept, that I could stay active by just doing activities I enjoyed that weren’t specific to fitness, like biking with my kids, walking around the neighborhood, and hiking as a family (with inhaler in hand, of course). At least if I died from an asthma attack climbing a mountain I’d die happy and not completely miserable!
I’ve also battled with what that meant for me spiritually. After all, we are told in 1 Cor that our body is a temple of the Holy Spirit, and we must honor God with our bodies. (1 Cor 3:16-17, 6:19-20)…but what does that really mean, and what does that mean specifically for me? Am I supposed to work out every day, and make fitness a high priority in my life? If I don’t, am I sinning?
There are 3 keys that have helped me have a healthy, Biblical view on this stemming from Romans 12:1-8:
1. Mercy is your motivation.
(Rom 12:1) Therefore I exhort you, brothers and sisters, by the mercies of God, to present your bodies as a sacrifice – alive, holy, and pleasing to God – which is your reasonable service.
Paul just spent the first half of Romans describing humanity as sinful and condemned. He goes on to remind us that God shows us great mercy through Christ by offering us salvation as a free gift, and by loving us unconditionally! This gives believers both freedom and power. Our motivation shouldn’t lie in our appearance or pride, social pressure or guilt. The mercies of God should serve as a motivation to live for Christ in all we do. “Long-lasting change only occurs when gratitude for God’s mercies is the chief motivation…. Hence, the best way to motivate people is to show them what God has done for them and let them rise to the challenge of responding to that love appropriately.” (Keith Krell)
Belief should impact behavior. So as a response to God’s mercies, Paul tells us how we should behave in the world, and that starts with using every part of the body in a way that pleases God. It’s a physical and spiritual response to all that God has done for us. We should use our hands to help and serve others. We should use our mouths to worship God, encourage others, and tell people about Christ. We should use our ears to listen and love others. We should use our feet to go where God calls us. We should obey God’s ways to avoid temptation and abuse of our bodies when it comes to drugs, alcohol, sex, and even food.
He calls us to:
- Live a life of worship
- Seek opportunities to serve
- Use our bodies willingly for His glory, not our own
We should live to die daily, fully dedicated and set apart for God, pleasing Him.
2. Renew your thinking.
(Rom 12:2) Do not be conformed to this present world, but be transformed by the renewing of your mind, so that you may test and approve what is the will of God – what is good and well-pleasing and perfect.
What we think will affect what we do. Paul specifically focuses on the renewing of our minds, not our bodies. If we are dwelling on all that we are not, we will miss out on all that He is! Our bodies are made to be temporary, but how we live and what we think will affect us into eternity.
We are called to think and behave differently than the norm. This applies to our choices when it comes to money, relationships, time, family, entertainment choices, and so much more. The world teaches us that power, fame, wealth, beauty, popularity, fitness, and possessions are the defining factors in success and value. We are told by our culture to find our worth in our appearance and bank accounts, to follow our hearts, and define our own truths. But God’s Word tells us our worth is found not in who we are, but in what God has done for us. He will change us, if we allow Him to, by saturating ourselves in God’s Word daily, memorizing and meditating on it. This gives us a healthy mindset and perspective on so many facets of life. God wants our body and our mind to respond to all He has done for us.
3. Discover and accept your unique gifts and use them.
(Romans 3:3-8) I realize how kind God has been to me, and so I tell each of you not to think you are better than you really are. Use good sense and measure yourself by the amount of faith that God has given you. A body is made up of many parts, and each of them has its own use. That’s how it is with us. There are many of us, but we each are part of the body of Christ, as well as part of one another. God has also given each of us different gifts to use. If we can prophesy, we should do it according to the amount of faith we have. If we can serve others, we should serve. If we can teach, we should teach. If we can encourage others, we should encourage them. If we can give, we should be generous. If we are leaders, we should do our best. If we are good to others, we should do it cheerfully.
I have a sign in my kitchen that says, “Whatever you are, be a good one.” God has distinctly and purposefully delegated gifts, talents, and personalities to each of us to be used for His purposes. We all have a part to play, and that looks different for each of us. We should never think that we are better than others because of the skills we have been given. And I think, too often, we come down too hard on ourselves for not being someone else’s version of who we think we should be. Stop comparing yourself to others and allow yourself the freedom to be you.
The winter months are the toughest for me because what I enjoy most is being outdoors. Sometimes it feels like I’m the only person I know who doesn’t go to the gym or run or coach/teach a fitness class…perhaps I am. But to be honest, I’m the happiest I’ve ever been in my larger size jeans. I care for my body best I can, while enjoying the food I love and making good choices the rest of the time. I invest my energy in eternity, knowing that this is all temporary and God has a perfect, painless, invigorated, asthma-free body waiting for me on the other side.
If you are a fitness guru (all of my best friends are and I love you dearly and am cheering you on!) I don’t mean this for you – I say all this to those of you who quietly and sadly scroll past all the gym posts and muscle pics and wonder if you’re doing something wrong or why your body doesn’t work the way others do. Or those who are hindered by an injury, condition, or even a stage of life that keeps you less active. I want to tell you that you keep doing the best you can for you! That looks different for everyone. Don’t allow your worth to be found in a number on a scale, or a tag on your clothes. If you think you’re somehow less strong, fearless, capable, or brave because you are on the sidelines of the fitness craze, I see you and you are not alone. You are fearfully and wonderfully made, created in God’s image, to do good works that will last into eternity! (Ps 139:14, Gen 1:27)
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 Tim 4:8)
“Comparison is the thief of joy,” so find what YOU love and be happy. If that means running or joining a class, great. If that means sharing a latte and a donut with a friend, great. Care for your body, care for your soul, and stop comparing what that looks like to others. Pursuing godliness trumps pursuing fitness.
Remember, the best is yet to come, and you can bet I’ll be running laps around Heaven!