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Faith and Fitness

On January 25th, my fiancé gave me my birthday present a month early (What you just thought should tell you a lot about your faith). It was membership into a fitness program that I’d been thinking about for about a year, but never pulled the trigger because I didn’t want 1) to spend any more money on fitness programs and 2) didn’t want another failure. You see, I’ve failed a LOT in the past. I’ve dropped weight by joining a gym and paying a very fit man to yell at me three times a week. Then, I quit. I dropped more than seventy pounds over four months twice – by liquid diets – and either gained most of the weight back, or ended up in my doctor’s office listening to explanations that the lumps found in my body were “most likely” deposits of calcium. Diet and exercise haven’t worked, so why would this?

Well, she bought it. I read the materials, listened to my inner-voice and realized, this was going to be another failure. It was going to fail because I was going to fail it. There was no way I was going to do three workouts a week and switch my diet to the “stuff food eats” diet again. I liked my chips, sodas, fries… (sorry faded off for a minute imagining fries) … and Krispy Kremes. And I’m right – the program is going to be another failure – because I can’t lose all the weight I need to (almost a hundred pounds) in the next 3 weeks. Well, it’s now been 26 days, almost the end of week four and this is what I have learned.

One – the bathroom scale is not the measure that is important. That “fundamental” element of every program I’ve ever tried is centered around this evil thing. Those numbers are the numbers of competitions, of the past, and frankly, will get my morning started off in exactly the wrong mental state. “I’m up .7 pounds from yesterday, what does that mean? What if I move it over to this part of the floor, and angle it this way, and step on it slowly, or what if I…” In the meantime my kid gets dropped off as school late because I’m obsessively trying to get every single tenth of a pound off that number.” That leads to failure. I know that about myself. I’ll starve to see that number come down, and then immediately run through a drive-thru to “celebrate.” This does not work long-term.

Two – the tailor’s tape is my friend. I have this measuring tape that tailors use, all plastic and bendy. I wouldn’t use it build a book case, but here’s what it tells me. In 21 days, my belly is 8” smaller. My chest is 2” smaller. My hips are 1” smaller. Arms, legs – all the same. My doctor was apparently right (who knew?) I apparently carry all my fat around my heart, lungs, liver… all the really important parts. So, I may have lost “only” fifteen pounds – but my body has lost significant size.

Three – everything I learned about diet was completely and utterly wrong. Did you know there were “good” fats and “good carbs?” I didn’t. Here’s what else I didn’t know. I can have a couple of pieces of real bacon (which I slow down for, just to enjoy the fatty-goodness) every now and then, and enjoy them, just not a pound at a time. I can have a coke, a nectar-of-the-gods coke, but now I drink from a 12 oz bottle, and a few sips is enough to pass the craving before I go back to my trusted water bottle (but not until the taste gets out of my mouth, I want to enjoy that as long as possible). I still probably take in 1200-1500 calories a day, but I don’t obsess over them. The other night, in a little-tiny bowl, I actually took some of my son’s uber-cheesed macaroni and ate some. It was delicious – which made me think of how often I’d shoveled this stuff into my gullet without actually taking the time to taste it. I hated carrots, but put some salt on them (now that I don’t eat fast-food often, my body can handle it) and they’re salty and crunchy, so much for potato chips during the game. Switching to “real” steaks instead of processed meats, yeah it’s a little more expensive, my grocery bills have gone up $40 a week, but my eat-out expenses have gone down more than $70.

Four – can you tell I’m enthusiastic? Usually the first thing to go in one of these things is my sense of humor. It’s still what it was (I won’t say I’m funny – but you’re free to say it). I have more energy (mostly) and I have found something I didn’t have before. I had diet-friends, fitness challenge buddies, but for the most part, most of what I did was on my own. This program has facebook support groups that make me laugh, inspire me, and when I do get down (because every now and then, we all get sad), I post “Hey, in need of some inspiration here.” I get a couple-hundred messages of cheer and support.

Five – maybe this will work? After all, it’s “my” program, I’m making it my own. I’m adapting to it (sometimes the motions are a little close to “why I need my knee repaired again” for my taste) and making it adapt to become something permanent in my life. I can live with it…

This whole program is based on the concept of “having faith in yourself.” But in reality, you rely on the message boards, the owner/guru, the other leaders. I rely on the recipes, the movements, the dynamic resistance, and the charisma of 3-time WCW champion Diamond Dallas Page to get me through this thing that lets me kick my own backside with nothing more than my own bodyweight. I have to buy in, to trust… and the testimonies are what had me on the fence for so long instead of dismissing it.

IN that way, it is a faith, a belief and yes, a discipline. And a commitment to do it for the rest of my life. And now it’s time to bring this home. Do I know if I’m going to hit my doctor’s goal weight for me? (I’m 70 pounds away according to his BMI-based goal). No. I don’t, but I’m at least interested in trying to find out, and strong enough to move on into more challenging sessions.

Many times, we try to exercise our faith without preparing for the strain. In today’s news there was a story about a power-lifter that came upon an accident involving a Jeep and a small child trapped under it. He literally lifted that over-turned Jeep off the kid so the first-responders could save that child’s life. He’d probably been asked more than once, “Why are you trying to get so big?” and now he literally can say, “I saved a child’s life.” That’s superhero stuff (Hulk it up!).

But we don’t often work out our faith. We don’t take in the good things that we need to, like scripture and study. We don’t surround ourselves with a supportive network, like a church that accepts us where we are and cheers for us every now and again, encourages us rather than measuring us on some scale of fitness. We don’t let ourselves commit to it until we try it out for a bit and see if we can see the results, and our ability to measure changes is not realistic – like trying to lose almost a hundred pounds in a week. We look for the perfect program, or book to buy, or short-term fix to a larger problem (like wearing a knee brace because we’re putting off the surgery). But it doesn’t give us the substantive change we long for.

Because we lack two things – inspiration and discipline. Inspiration from hearing those testimonies and being a part of other people’s stories. And the discipline to practice the routines even if it feels like we aren’t getting the results that we want, or we aren’t getting them RIGHT NOW! One has to come from a community, the other has to come from within yourself. If you want a fit-faith you have to be willing to work and seek inspiration.

Now, I know the typical response is, “I get all the inspiration I need from…” and I get it. But let me clue you in on something. On the fourth day of this, I noticed I couldn’t breathe in one of the positions. It was a safe position, meant to lower your heart rate, and I was gasping and panting to the point where my heart-rate shot up until I could hear it in my ears. I was dizzy. So, I called a friend of mine who laughed about it. “Yeah, put your knees farther apart and your ankles closer together.” All that extra body I had? I was pressing it into my thighs, restricting my lungs. Next time I hit the position, “BAM!” my heart rate started coming down and I could breathe. I also dripped a lot of sweat onto the mat (anyone know how to clean a yoga mat?).

I needed the help of an expert. I needed the help of someone who had not only been down the same road, but had taken the time to learn how to pave it and make it smoother for others.

So, feel free to work out your faith on your own. But be aware, if you try to do it all on your own, you may be doing yourself more harm than good. You’ve probably tried many times in your life to do that and may even think you’ve failed. But if I can suggest something? Find yourself a community of people that will support and inspire you, and find some leaders that know what they’re doing to give you some guidance before you really do damage.

In my early faith, I used to believe a lot of things, and I didn’t work them out all that hard. Then life started punching me in the face, and I didn’t know how to take a punch, how to block it, or if I was strong enough to handle it. But I made a decision, to stretch my faith, to test it, to work it, and I’m still doing that – because it’s a life-long goal. I have more questions now than I used to because I’ve stretched it. I used to believe in a very limited God. For a particular people, in a particular time, in a particular place, with particular rules and behaving in a very particular way.

But then I realized something, on my knees, struggling for breath. God is more peculiar than particular. What kind of peculiar love extends to all? What kind of peculiar love involves a sacrifice so thorough? How peculiar, strange and unusual, weird and abnormal is this love God has for people that haven’t earned it, don’t trust it, and question it so regularly?

Those are my workout questions, and so now when life punches me in the faith, I try to remember that faith, that is strong, doesn’t come from me, but with my relationship with the Almighty. And then I remind myself, “I don’t know why – but I can’t wait to see how God is going to work through this.”

It’s not only a faith I can live with, but a faith I will die with.

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