Being fit had become an idol. It was time to do something drastic.
I held my breath as I prepared to hit the "send" button on my e-mail. I knew that once the message left the safety of my "drafts" folder and made its way across cyberspace and into the inboxes of my church leaders and mentors, there would be no turning back.
In a quiet moment of reflection, as my index finger hovered over the mouse, I considered the past six years of my life, years that had become increasingly governed by selfishness, arrogance and a lack of self-control. Years which signified months, weeks and days of agonizing self-analysis and striving after vain and empty things.
I struggled one moment longer with the fears clamoring for my attention, took a deep breath, recalled the Scripture verse that had motivated my write-up, and prepared to click my e-mail into the great unknown of my future; a future that would include painful vulnerability and surrender to God's will.
* * *
I was 14 when I began dieting for the first time. True, I was overweight by a good five pounds or so, but who isn't at that age? I remember the agony of counting my calories and forcing myself to do what I hated most: run. But my desire for worldly acclamation quickly overcame my hatred for exercise, and I became a self-admitted gym rat and a health freak, memorizing the Calorie-Counter's Handbook and working out up to three times a day.
I always thought that once I reached a "healthy" weight I would cut back — but old habits die hard, and as I sat at my computer six years later and 15 pounds lighter, I was no less obsessed with health and fitness and no more happy than when I began. If anything, my life was even more dominated by my worldly and distorted view of myself and my efforts to stay in perfect shape, both for my own pleasure and the satisfaction I found in my reputation as a "health nut" and "motivated athlete."
It took years for God to work on my heart, to reveal to me the true motivations for my pursuit of fitness. I would continually hear exhortations in sermons and worship to "surrender all" to the Lord. Every time someone read 1 Corinthians 10:31, "So whatever you do, whether you eat or drink, do it all to the glory of God," I winced. And every time I experienced that prick in my conscience to examine the one area of my life that I always felt in control of, I pushed it aside, thinking, "Everything else, but not that, Lord."
In my e-mail confessional, after the Holy Spirit had finally broken in, I summarized my concern about this:
I know that hardening my heart on a consistent basis will affect EVERY area of my life, and not only has God been urging me more and more to talk with you, but I have become more aware, by his grace, of the problem that really exists....
It was alarming to me that it had become increasingly easy to ignore the regular attempts of my heart to convince me of my need for change.
In a world increasingly dominated by what is visible and deluded by the seeming "security" of the present and the "reliability" of what is tangible, the struggle for biblically-informed lifestyles has weakened. A quick perusal of any Christian bookstore will reveal an ever-increasing selection of resources on health, diet and fitness.
While the wider body of Christians may not be quick to commit the "obvious" sins in violation of 1 Corinthians 6:19-20 ("Your body is a temple"), it is rare, in my experience, for Christians to admit a lack of discipline — or a worldly perspective (one informed by culture and trends) — in the areas of health and fitness.
The discipline spoken of in 1 Corinthians 10:31, "So ... whatever you do, do all to the glory of God," requires submission of even my daily habits to the will of God; my command as a Christian to be "set apart" from the world includes how I decide to sleep, eat, exercise and so on. It requires self-examination and enlisting others to help me see where my perspective has been distorted by worldly influences. As Paul urges in Romans 12, God calls me to offer my body as a living sacrifice, holy and pleasing to God.
These were the truths God had finally impressed upon my repeatedly-hardened heart. Although my sin may not have been one of gluttony or of laziness (idolizing food or not seeking to maintain a healthy exercise and eating pattern), it was still rooted in a lack of the application of scripture to my life. For me, the control of my "health-conscious" habits was a control that had elevated that area of my life to the level of idolatry.
I didn't want God to get involved, and I certainly didn't want to make a change or seek help to put health and fitness in their proper place in my life. I knew it would mean removing them from the center of my universe.
"Ninety percent of my day," I admitted in my e-mail, "is spent being dominated by those views. I am constantly analyzing what I eat, how much I eat, how much I exercise, what kind of exercise, etc. And not only do I want to address this because I know it doesn't please God, won't serve me in the future, indicates idols which I think I can identify and address on my own, etc. — but also because it has gotten to the point where I really feel enslaved to it, and that frightens me. The fact that I WRESTLE with things like this is so very sad — there are other ways God wants me to wrestle with sin patterns, but much of my time is spent thinking about or dealing with this area.... I know He demands ALL of me, and I've been holding this back."
* * *
By God's grace, I did send that e-mail, and in doing so, I opened myself up for Him to work in me and release me from the bondage, lies, emptiness and fear which had seemed to be freedom, truth, satisfaction and security. Since then, I've decided to pursue a part-time career as a Personal Trainer/Health and Wellness Counselor, because that area of my life is finally being properly submitted to God's will and informed by biblical standards.
I think that the areas of health and fitness are two of the most difficult things to open up about to others. They were for me, and still are. I want to be in control of my body and how I feel about myself — it seemed the one thing I could really, truly find security in.
But in retrospect, I see how deceived I was. I need the eyes of others and the "eyes" of Scripture to help me determine the "how much" and "when" and "what" and even the "why" of healthy habits. It isn't an easy road, but it is worth it! Along this road, I discovered four helpful principles:
- The world lies: the cultural standards of "ideal bodies" and "perfect health," coupled with the temptations and pitfalls of slogans like "obey your thirst" and "follow your heart" make it a twisted and unreliable measuring stick for how to view our health and wellness habits.
- Pride has to die: I can't tell you how many times I wanted to backpedal after sending that e-mail. I didn't want to talk about the thoughts and feelings associated with my habits, and I didn't want scripture or anyone else to tell me what to do with my life (do we ever?). But in order to see myself clearly (Jer. 17:9) I needed to realize how distorted my view was, and seek the counsel of those I respected and trusted.
- The word must inform: Even Christian resources can be misleading when it comes to the more "practical" outworkings of our everyday lives. Although there were many resources that proved helpful for me (Love to Eat, Hate to Eat by Elyse Fitzpatrick), the most valuable and reliable was what I gleaned from my Bible. Verses such as 1 Cor. 6:19-20, 1 Cor. 10:31, Galatians 5:22-23, Proverbs 3:5-6, 1 Cor. 10:23-24, and others are the foundation for my pursuit of change as I submit this area of my life to God.
- Prayer is key: As in all areas of sanctification, without acknowledging my dependence on God I will go nowhere. I pray for things like clarity, humility, self-control, perseverance, and security found in my standing before God, not success in meeting my own standards or those of the world. I know that without his work in my heart, it will stay hardened in it's selfish, stubborn ways. But with his help, I can be fully confident in the truth of 2 Cor. 12:9: "'My grace is sufficient for you, for my power is made perfect in weakness.' Therefore I will boast all the more gladly about my weaknesses, so that Christ's power may rest on me."
Copyright 2009 Jen Marie. All rights reserved.