“The Lord gave and the Lord has taken away; may the name of the Lord be praised.” Job 1:21
Exercise is a gift. I did not always think of it as such. When I was struggling, I would have told you I loved it, but that would have been a lie. I loved the fact that exercise burned calories which, in turn, caused the voice in my head—the voice of the great Enemy, to quiet down, to leave me alone, to allow me to relax and eat. Exercise was necessary and non-negotiable. For someone who has never experienced an eating disorder, they might think, “Yeah, so what?! Isn’t that a good thing?” Of course exercise is necessary and should be an important part of one’s routine, but only if for the right reasons. But for me, and for many who battle body image issues, eating disorders, and self-hate, we do not exercise to take care of our bodies, we exercise to punish them, to change the way they look, to try to fit into an ideal that we see as ‘better’ than we are.
I believe that God has given us the gift of exercise- fun and interesting ways to strengthen stretch and build our bodies so that we are able to do the good works we were created to do for His kingdom. But if we misuse this gift, and many of us do, He can also take it away.
Briefly, in the initial phases of my recovery, my treatment team asked me to avoid most exercise methods. Until I was ready to think of exercise primarily as a way to gain strength and endurance, I needed to stay away from the temptation. Gradually, I learned to look at time and distance rather than calories burned. In fact, I stayed away from every exercise where that seemed to be the focus. As I began to work out my faith in God, I also began to feel like I could exercise and keep the right perspective, but it takes time, practice, and continued renewed focus on a regular basis.
Working in the fitness industry, or really, just walking around in the world, I am surrounded by programs that focus on the “problem areas” of the body, advocate working through pain, “sculpting, flattening, lifting” and many other words that can be triggering and fuel the Voice that likes to tell me I am just not pretty or perfect enough. I have to choose what to listen to, daily.
This is not always easy, even today as a ‘recovered’ person. Some questions I ask myself are:
Is my soreness ‘good’ or is it ‘pain’?
What type of exercise does my body need today?
Will I have enough energy left over to do what I need to do for my job, family?
There have been times when God has given me the gift of exercise, of challenging myself to reach a goal, like training and completing races, climbing mountains in Colorado, learning to ski. But there have also been times that God has taken it away. Two years ago, I was sidelined for several months from the very exercise I enjoy most. I had an injury that resulted in me not walking for a bit. I had to sit, I had to be still.
I learned that the injury and the recovery from it were gifts in themselves. I was forced again to go back to the CORE questions: Why did God give me a body? What does he want me to do with it? How should I adjust to not being able to exercise like I am used to? When should I exercise and when should I stop?
As I began to exercise again, I had a renewed emphasis. However, I still have to make choices. I still have to ask myself those questions. I cannot grow complacent. If I am unsure as to what God wants me to do with my body, I must go to Him in prayer, asking for guidance.
Of course, part of all of that is knowing that I am not perfect. I do not always rest when I should or work out when I need to. I do not always remember to seek God’s guidance FIRST when it comes to these choices, but I am learning to be more discerning, to stop when I need to, or start when I can. I have learned to give myself some grace about not being the strongest, most toned, athlete I know. I am not the fastest runner, biker, swimmer, by anyone’s standards. But I have learned that those things don’t really matter to God. He wants each and every one of us to give everything we have to Him and let Him do with it what He will. For some, this means that they will be an elite athlete or extreme mountain climber, that they will work through injury and pain to achieve these goals. For others it will mean that exercise is something they do not enjoy, but they do it as a means to stay healthy or to be a part of a community.
For me, exercise will be something I have to continually give back to God. I will have to go to my Creator and ask, “What would you have me do?” For now, it seems to me that He continues to remind me that through His Son, Jesus, I gain the strength I need, that whereas man looks at outward appearance, the Lord is concerned with my heart. I am also reminded of a passage from Ecclesiastes chapter 9:
I have seen something else under the sun:
The race is not to the swift
or the battle to the strong,
nor does food come to the wise
or wealth to the brilliant
or favor to the learned;
but time and chance happen to them all.
In the end, the athlete that trains 40 hours per week, the woman who walks her dog for 30 minutes each morning, the person who struggles to get off the couch, and someone like me that just does what I can when I can…time will happen to us all. It will not matter, I do not think, how we gave everything we have to God, but that we did. So that is my goal…
To press (on toward the goal to win the prize for which God has called me heavenward in Christ Jesus.) Philippians 3:14
To lift (up my eyes to the One who sits enthroned in heaven) Psalm 123:1
To run (the race of perseverance toward Christ Jesus) Hebrews 12
And to rest (my soul in Christ alone.) Matthew 11:29
If I do this, I will not gain (the whole world), true, but I also will not lose (my soul)…I will maintain a perfect balance. (Luke 9:25)
Breathing In (Bible Study)
The study this week is simple. Just look at the Bible verses from the devotion. Choose one that encourages you to keep exercise in its proper place in your life. Take some time to study the verse in context. Be sure to use your concordance!!
Breathing Out (Prayer) From Proverbs 4
Father, Incline our ears to your sayings.
Do not let them depart from our sight;
Keep them in the midst of our hearts.
For they are life to those who find them
And health to all their body.
Help us to watch over our hearts with all diligence,
For from it flow the springs of life.
Fix our eyes directly ahead
And may our gaze be fixed straight in front of us.
Please have us watch the paths of our feet
So that all our ways will be established. Amen