Fit Faith: Essential: Side-by-Side

“A friend loves you all the time, and a brother helps in time of trouble.” (Proverbs 17:17)

As much as I advocate healthy relationships and accountability among women when I’m speaking and teaching, I have to admit I’ve steered away from fitness accountability. I’ve worked through several reasons (a.k.a., excuses). It was easier to set my own schedule. When my girls were young, I needed to sneak in workouts whenever I could. I often took them in the stroller for long walks when I knew they could best manage. To set a specific time and days seemed unfathomable. I knew the weather, kids and other factors would get in the way. Why schedule something at all when I was sure I’d have to reschedule?

Even as my girls grew and I had more flexibility, I didn’t welcome the idea of working out with others. I enjoyed the solitude of being by myself. It was one of the few times I could listen only to my own thoughts and take in everything around me without distractions. Also, I walk quickly, and few people I knew, whose schedule somewhat matched mine, could keep up. That meant I didn’t feel as if I had a “complete” workout when I was done. So, I’d potentially spend precious time away from my family, get no alone time, and not get a great workout. The choice to work out on my own seemed like a no-brainer.

There have been a few exceptions. I love walking with husband, especially in recent years. I walk at his pace and take a separate walk if I feel the need. We walk and talk, enjoying each other’s company. I love walking with my oldest daughter. We live a state apart, so we don’t walk together often. She can now easily walk as quickly as I can; in fact, each time I walk with her, I ready myself for being left in her dust. I also enjoy walks with a few of my best friends who walk relatively quickly. Sharing seems to flow freely as we walk, and these friends know long walks don’t daunt me. I’m in it – the walk and the friendship – for the long haul.

Not long ago, I ventured into one more shared fitness experience. My youngest daughter, who is very involved in dance, asked me to go to an intense, full body workout in preparation for her upcoming busy dance schedule. I agreed along with another dancer’s mom. It was challenging to say the least, and I left with a desire to return so I could meet the physically demanding challenge.

After a couple more classes, I found out one of the women in the class shared a very good mutual friend with me. I had heard many great things about her from our friend, and she had heard about me, so when we put the puzzle pieces together, we felt like we already knew each other. Someone else I knew but hadn’t seen for quite a while showed up for the following class, and I found out those two women not only knew each other but worked together and often attended a couple fitness classes together. It was fun to see new connections among my network of friends.

We were glad when we saw other in class, and it wasn’t long before we started checking with each other prior to class to encourage each other to be there or be aware when someone had a conflict. Working out together spurred accountability as well as fun, as we shared inside jokes, exhaustion, sore muscles and challenges. When we took a break over Christmas, I missed the routine of the classes, but I missed seeing my friends more. Who would have thought I, the woman who preferred to work out on her own, would suddenly be missing my work out buddies?

Friendships are essential. Healthy friendships are essential. Set aside your excuses. You might think you don’t have time for a women’s study group. You might prefer to control your own schedule. You might not want the hassle of potential personality conflicts. But it’s what God intended for you.

So encourage each other and give each other strength, just as you are doing now. (1 Thessalonians 5:11)

Fit Faith: Energy: Telepathic Boost

Okay, I don’t believe in telepathy. But I do believe that external things can impact my energy. By that, I mean I don’t necessarily have to consume something, especially a high-sugar drink, in order to get a boost of energy. The warm sunshine inviting me through the window can give me just the boost I need to get outside for a long walk. Reading about a Facebook friend’s boost of fitness success can motivate me to stick with my goals. And what can get me off the couch faster than just about anything is finding a good competitive fitness show on tv.

After a night of little sleep, I was lazily watching television with my family. During a break in the football game, we were looking through the guide, and I saw CrossFit Challenge. I’m nowhere close to being a CrossFit athlete, but I have a friend who is training, and it intrigues me. I’m impressed by any extreme, well-rounded athletes. I like to not only watch them compete but also listen to their stories about how they got started and train and what motivates them. We decided to watch for a few minutes and were quickly impressed with the fitness level. The fact that the competitors don’t know the specifics of the events in which they’ll compete impresses me. If you want to test what you can handle, train for the unknown!

After watching for about thirty minutes, I couldn’t sit still any longer. As lazy as I had felt a short time earlier, I was now motivated to get up and move. Since the Challenge was scheduled for another couple hours, I took full advantage of the energy involved in the competition. I jumped on the elliptical and worked out without a break for over an hour and a half. I was doing nothing at all close to what the CrossFit athletes were doing, but I was moving along with them. Seeing the extreme effort of others was just the motivation I needed to get a boost of energy. It’s not the first time. I’ve done the same after watching a wide variety of sports and competitive shows. I could stay on the couch and not fully benefit from the motivation, but I (usually) want to use the fuel.

How you respond to opportunities to spiritually grow is important. You’re not always going to feel like serving, sacrificing, and studying. It’s sometimes easier to lie on the spiritual couch and watch others do what you feel you can’t or don’t want to do. It’s easier to become a spectator instead of expending the energy. Too many people sit on the couch when they’re being invited to participate. Too many people coach from the couch instead of getting active themselves.

In what areas of your life do you sit back as a spectator more than jump in as a participant? Consider why you sit back. Is it fear? Do you feel insufficient? Are you being lazy? Do you think getting active would be a waste of time? Do you have extensive experience in an area and feel you don’t need to be involved anymore?

Search for sources of energy that get you off the spiritual couch. Do something, anything. When something motivates you, take full advantage of it. When you read something in a book that intrigues you, search out the biblical basis of it. When a speaker says something that challenges you, write a note to yourself to intentionally live it out soon. If someone in need comes to mind, do something to help.

“Do what God’s teaching says; when you only listen and do nothing, you are fooling yourselves. Those who hear God’s teaching and do nothing are like people who look at themselves in a mirror. They see their faces and then go away and quickly forget what they looked like. But the truly happy people are those who carefully study God’s perfect law that makes people free, and they continue to study it. They do not forget what they heard, but they obey what God’s teaching says. Those who do this will be made happy.” (James 1:22-25)

God provides motivation and energy. Use it well. Live intentionally.

Fit Faith: Endurance: Climbing the Ruins

Tim and I decided to take a day trip away from our resort in Playa del Carmen to explore some Mayan ruins. We had seen some smaller ones during an earlier trip, but we would be able to climb a large one, and since another major site had been closed to all climbing recently, we decided we should take the opportunity while we could.

After getting a tour around the main group of ruins, we were told we’d have to hike if we wanted to climb the taller ruin. We could rent bikes, but Tim and I decided to enjoy the walking time. By the time we made it to the ruin, we were already soaked in sweat.

It was a more difficult climb than we expected. It required endurance of several kinds. First was the physical endurance of climbing quite a distance. Next was the mental endurance of climbing nearly straight up with extremely narrow and uneven steps. There was one rope running up the middle of the steps for people who felt unsteady. The only issue was what to do when someone coming up with the rope and someone going down with the rope met somewhere along the way.

Once we made it to the top, there was another set of issues to endure. The first was the realization that we were definitely not in the United States anymore. No historical preservation society would allow anyone to get near such ancient ruins, and OSHA would never allow anyone to climb without a harness and all types of safety apparatus. Instead, we walked around on the narrow ledges at the top with no guard rails or limitations of where we could walk. There was loose gravel everywhere, and we were sure with one false move, we’d plummet to our deaths.

The next issue was to determine what the best approach to get down would be. There were no back-up plans. There were no ruins authorities monitoring everyone’s abilities and progress, willing to swoop us onto their backs to carry us to safety. There was no zipline available to take the fast route down. There were two choices: face forward and scoot down or face the ruin and go down backward. Backward seemed the logical choice to me.

The physical endurance on the way down was nothing. Keeping my nerves in check was a bit of a challenge. I’m not easily intimidated by physical challenges or heights, but as I carefully moved down the ruin, I remember singing to myself a modified Dory song from Nemo: “Just keep moving, just keep moving.”

Alas! I reached the bottom. I had originally thought I might try to climb multiple times. I was quite content with one.

Sometimes we anticipate and even invite a spiritual climb. We think we’re prepared for it and are ready to conquer it. We think we know enough about ourselves and our strengths and weaknesses that we quickly assess what we believe we can and can’t do and how well we’ll do it. We’re ready to endure, we think. However, when we’re faced with the uphill climb, we come face-to-face with the realization that we were only thinking of one aspect of the endurance it would take to face such a mountain. We didn’t take all factors into account, because we didn’t know all the factors until we started the climb. We found ourselves in need of more endurance than we anticipated. We get on the mountain, and the only option we have is endurance, because there are no easy ways down. We have to just keep moving, just keep moving.

We also have joy with our troubles, because we know that these troubles produce patience. And patience produces character, and character produces hope. (Romans 5:3-4)

How are you responding with spiritual endurance in your life right now?

Fit Faith: Emotions: I Don’t Wanna!

I enjoy working out, but I don’t always feel like working out. I usually feel better once I do but not always. The problem is feelings can’t determine behavior. When we let them, we’ll likely get in trouble. Emotions enhance life; they don’t drive life. When we allow emotions to determine what we do and don’t do, our wants override our needs.

Right now I feel like eating a piece of peppermint chocolate. The problem is there’s one readily available to me in the candy dish near my computer. I want to eat chocolate, but I know (1) I don’t need chocolate and (2) I’ll regret eating it. While it’s what I feel I want right now, it’s not really what I want. What I want is to moderate my diet and avoid undoing the effort of working out earlier today.

Yesterday I was excited to get to take a long walk outside unexpectedly. I paused my writing to allow a two-hour walk time. It was glorious. However, with nearly 30 minutes to go, I started thinking about returning to write. My creativity began to flow, and since my muscles were beginning to hurt at the same time, I felt like returning home to write. However, I knew the opportunity to walk outside was limited and that I’d wish for the same opportunity in days to come and wonder why I hadn’t taken full advantage of it while I could. I felt like stopping in the moment, but I knew I really wanted the rejuvenation of an as-long-as-possible outdoor walk, so I finished.

We can get so accustomed to feelings leading our behavior that we don’t realize what’s happening. We can assign other reasons and excuses for our behavior. A common one is “I don’t have time.” We all have the same amount of time, and if you’ve ever experienced time seemingly flying by or dragging, you’ll agree that while 24 hours is a measurable time, what we can fit into it isn’t always measurable or predictable. What we plan to get done in an hour at times doesn’t get done. Something we thought would take a full day takes a half day.

How you spend time has to do with priorities. Instead of “I don’t have time,” perhaps a more accurate statement is “I choose other things to occupy my time.” Yes, I understand that some things, such as work and family time, are “givens” in many people’s lives, so they might assume that block of time is occupied not by choice but by obligation. However, there are still choices.

We don’t have to make excuses for our choices when they’re good. Yes, I choose to get my work done and spend time with family, but instead of saying “I don’t have time” as if I’m a victim of my circumstance, I can say, “I’m choosing other things right now that limit any extra time I’d have for…” It’s not that you don’t have time for something extra. It’s that you’re choosing to spend time on other things. As long as you’re being obedient to God through the process, that’s okay. If you’re rationalizing your own wants, it’s not. If you’re letting your feelings guide what you do and don’t do, it’s not.

It’s really not your time to determine. Time is God’s gift to you, and you’re expected to steward it well, which means you should glorify God with it. After a busy travel schedule, I woke up on a Sunday morning and wanted to have a “junk day” instead of going to church. I don’t think God would have been angry with me for not going to church if he was prompting me to do something else that would have nourished or challenged me to grow in my relationship with him. That wasn’t the case. I just wanted to stay in bed, eat junk food and watch reality TV all day: not exactly nourishing or challenging. I felt like staying in bed, but I knew it wasn’t what I actually wanted, because I want what God wants. I want to be in a relationship with him in which I’m seeking his will, listening and being obedient to him and glorifying him in the process.

And God gives us what we ask for because we obey God’s commands and do what pleases him. This is what God commands: that we believe in his Son, Jesus Christ, and that we love each other, just as he commanded. (1 John 3:22-23)

The next time you feel you do or don’t want to do something and let those feelings go unchecked and guide your behavior, check with God. Ask him what he has planned, and be obedient despite your feelings.

Fit Faith: Elasticity: Rubber Bands

I’ve never been very good at flicking rubber bands. They usually end up shooting in a direction I didn’t intended. Sometimes they actually hit me instead of the intended target. They’re unpredictable in my opinion.

I’ve also had them break, usually when I’ve tried to stretched around way too many papers. I’ve stretched them beyond their limits. I’ve stretched them too thin. It’s also possible to not stretch them enough. If rubber bands sit unused long enough, they’ll get dry and brittle so that they easily break with the slightest stretch.

Our muscles are the same. Stretching is great exercise, but if we force stretching beyond out limits, especially as we try to suddenly bounce into a stretch for maximum results, we’ll stress our muscles beyond capacity and snap or strain something. The result is rarely the same as with a rubber band, since rubber bands can’t be put back together (unless they’re tied, which drastically reduces their capacity), but muscles can heal if taken care of well. Of course, the better option is to not overstretch in the first place.

On the other hand, if we don’t stretch our muscles, we’ll not only become inflexible but also become weak and brittle. I’ve visited several people in the hospital who are unable to move on their own for a while. However, it’s still important for their muscles to get moved and stretched to avoid atrophy. One doctor insisted the family purchase a brand new pair of shoes for the patient to wear in his hospital bed. To use a well-worn pair would have supported any bad habits the muscles had developed since none of us hold our muscles in perfect positions. A new pair of shoes would be more likely to firmly hold the feet upward, so the muscles the patient would need later as he healed wouldn’t be shortened from the “flopping feet” effect that happens when we lie down.

If muscles aren’t worked, whether in a hospital bed or through our daily routines, we’ll atrophy. Our muscles will become weak and brittle. I’m sure you’ve had the experience of using muscles you hadn’t used for a while and quickly discovering fatigue or soreness the following morning when you tried to do the simplest of tasks.

Our spiritual muscles respond in the same way. If we don’t use them on a regular basis, they’ll atrophy so that it’s difficult for us to use them effectively. Just like our physical muscles, we’ll get sore as soon as we try to move in ways we’re not accustomed to regularly moving. Just like rubber bands, we risk developing a brittleness that easily cracks and frustrates us when we try to stretch again. If you’re not in the routine of participating in regular worship services, it might be rough to get out of bed the first few times. You might think about all the things you could be doing instead of spending several hours in a church. If you haven’t served others for a while, you could question what’s in it for you as you try to reach out to others. You’ll more easily get your feelings hurt or respond to unrealistic expectations of response or results. If you haven’t been in a small group study for a while, you might feel insecure. You might think everyone has the answers but you, or you might get frustrated with the pace or content of the discussion.

We can also stretch our spiritual muscles beyond what is reasonable and healthy. God absolutely wants us to grow, but his timing is perfect. It might be more comfortable for us not to stretch, but if God says it’s time for us to stretch, we need to respond in obedience. It might seem more appealing for us to try to quickly “catch up” in our lack of discipline by overstretching despite our screaming muscles we know we won’t be able to use the next day because of the unreasonable stretching, but if God says we need to pace ourselves, we need to respond in obedience. The pace won’t always be the same. The routine won’t always be the same. That’s a given in our relationship with God. He doesn’t change and his ways don’t change, but he wants us to seek, listen and respond. He keeps us on our toes and blesses our obedience. Be flexible in your relationship with him.

Jesus said to all of them, “If people want to follow me, they must give up the things they want. They must be willing to give up their lives daily to follow me.” (Luke 9:23)

Fit Faith: Effort: Level of Play

I went for a walk today and nearly blew away. At least it felt that way. I leaned so heavily into the wind when facing it that I knew I’d fall flat to my face if the wind suddenly stopped. It wasn’t even refreshing to walk with my back to the wind, because I had to lean back slightly and keep my feet firmly in from of me to keep from being pushed into a jog.

Different conditions make activity harder or easier. For this central Illinois girl, hiking in the Rocky Mountains requires an adjustment. I start drinking water as soon as I land in the higher altitudes and monitor my breathing more closely, particularly as I hike into the mountains. Oxygen is less concentrated, so I have to adjust in order to avoid quick fatigue.

On the other hand, “swimming” in the Dead Sea in Israel took nearly no effort at all. Leaning back into the water to float with no effort is something I knew was supposed to happen, but I thought I’d likely have to do something besides sit back and relax. No. It truly was as easy as people had made it sound.

A variety of factors impact the effort it takes to accomplish something. When have you experienced “uphill, thin air” faith? When have you experienced “sit back and relax” faith?

I hope you’ve experienced a taste of both!

Sit-back-and-relax faith moments might seem few and far between, but consider the moments in which you’ve had peace where you are even if there is uncertainty and chaos around you. There have been times when I’ve travelled and been in the middle of what seemed like chaos. There have been throngs of people, many who don’t speak my language at times, trying to get in a variety of directions, perhaps even complaining or making demands. There have been security concerns as I jostled among people. There have been raised voices and reddening faces. While I continued to be mindful of what was going on around me, even planning for a variety of options of leaving the situation, I’ve had peace that there was no need to panic.

I’ve been in situations in hospitals when the unknown or inconceivable is pressing in around a family I’m trying to help. There’s chaos in disagreements mixed with elevated emotions. Voices are raised. Tension increases. Yet there can be peace. I can see it in some people’s faces. They may be upset, but they proceed with a foundation of assurance.

Other situations are the uphill, thin air experiences that seem to take every effort to make it one more step. The hope of beautiful views can help with motivation but the labored breath and effort can quickly create fatigue. I’ve been in situations in which I collapse because I just can’t catch my breath well enough to take one more step. I have to regain some strength before moving on. At the time, I might not even believe it’s possible to move on. Even after a rest, the climb must continue. It seems to never end. I can’t see the top of the mountain through the crowd of the trees. While I try to believe there is a view worth pursuing, I begin to question if I’m even on the right path. Perhaps I should go back. Perhaps I’m not cut out to accomplish this. I might as well just quit. The climb can overwhelm me to the point of exhaustion or surrender. Or, I might experience the sense of accomplishment as I push ahead.

Why do we let our circumstances dictate our attitudes and plans? Yes, our efforts are affected, but they’re not determined by our circumstances.

“Make every effort to give yourself to God as the kind of person he will approve. Be a worker who is not ashamed and who uses the true teaching in the right way.” (2 Timothy 2:15)

We can’t dictate our circumstances. However, we can persevere whether the wind is at our backs or faces. Our responsibility is responding in obedience.

Consider how you’re allowing your circumstances determine your effort. What effort are you intentionally and unconditionally putting into your relationship with God?

Fit Faith: Contraction: Minimize to Maximize

When I think of contractions, my first thought has nothing to do with exercise. I think of grammar, where contractions are shortened words or combinations of words formed by taking away one or more letters. I am becomes I’m. Should not becomes shouldn’t. You have becomes you’ve. Contractions in exercise are related, because they involve a shortening of muscles. One of my first experiences with the movement of contraction was in gymnastics when I had to learn how to contract my core muscles and pull my arms forward to form a nicely rounded back for flowing, artistic body lines. I already knew how to make grammatical contractions. It was about taking something out. Contractions seemed to make language easier. I wasn’t supposed to use them much in writing, but they certainly make communicating a bit easier. In fact, because of the casual effect contractions could make, they make communication seem lazy.

Not so with physical contractions. Physical contractions involved work and effort. There’s nothing lazy about working your muscles. To minimize a couple words is easy. To intentionally minimize muscles, whether to stretch and tone muscles or to create an artistic effect, is not so easy. Minimizing seems simple, but it’s deceptively simple.

If I minimize my to do list, I have to prioritize, probably reducing or eliminating some things I might not necessarily want to reduce or eliminate. Minimizing isn’t always easy, but it can produce growth through the challenges.

What do you need to contract in your spiritual life? What do you need to tighten up to strengthen? Contraction requires focus. How are you focused on strengthening your faith?

I especially remember how concentrated on my core muscles I had to be when I was on the uneven bars in gymnastics. So many stunts required a body position involving slight (or quick) core contraction. If my body wasn’t positioned in just the right way, I would mess up the timing of a release, swing, or dismount. The contraction seemed like such a small component of the stunt; after all, there was nothing in the name of the stunts that said anything about contraction. However, the contraction was essential.

Tightening aspects of our faith is essential as well. Perhaps your faith is sloppy right now. You’re not able to get through a routine without falling all over the place, because your spiritual muscles aren’t tightening at just the right time to keep you on track. You need to think through the details of every move until you’ve retrained your muscles to work with your movement instead of creating obstacles.

Or perhaps your faith is so firmly established that you don’t have to give much thought to what you’re doing as you fly from one move to another. However, it’s important to appreciate how you got to where you are as well as how you can appreciate where you are and begin to push yourself to the next level. God won’t keep you at the novice level longer than is absolutely essential. He wants you to be world-class for him. You’re going to have to consistently practice and deal with a lot of bumps and bruises.

How do you need to be more intentional so you’ll spiritually grow? How do you need to tighten your muscles to tone them and help you complete what needs to be done in order to grow closer to God and to glorify him?

We are allowed to do all things, but not all things are good for us to do. We are allowed to do all things, but not all things help others grow stronger. (1 Corinthians 10:23)