Staying active is not easy for me. I am a native of Wisconsin, where winters are long. I’ve also never been too involved in sports. In fact, for much of my life, the notion of exercise has felt like a burden and a losing battle.
But why is regular exercise so difficult for many of us?
Whenever I find myself wrestling with a habit that needs to change, I like to ask, “What is my motivation?” I believe an overwhelmingly common motivation behind exercise in our culture is the desire for a physical shape that will improve the way we are perceived by others. I have certainly used that desire as my motivator.
The train of thought is that our “improved” (stronger, more attractive) bodies will be vehicles that move us closer to achieving our other interpersonal goals, whether they involve intimacy, respect, admiration or something else. This thought is covertly expressed by someone who starts a new exercise program and says, “I just needed to do something for myself.”
My perspective started to change when, six months ago, I began working out with a friend. We met twice a week at 7 a.m. in our college’s fitness center. The reality is that I never would have been able to get out of bed at 7 a.m. to work out “for myself.” The couple of times I have tried, my head has filled with complaints, and I would roll over and go back to sleep. But now, I get out of bed to work out to support my friend in maintaining a healthy lifestyle. I get out of bed “for her.” When exercising became about someone else, all of my mental complaining stopped. I had a plan with another person that I was not going to break just because of my own laziness, and furthermore, I was investing in her and in our friendship.
Learning to exercise “for someone else” opened my heart to something even bigger: exercising for the Lord. God cares about what we do with our bodies:
Do you not know that your body is a temple of the Holy Spirit, who is in you, whom you have received from God? You are not your own; you were bought at a price. Therefore honor God with your body (1 Corinthians 6:19-20).
In context, these verses specifically speak to sexual immorality, but it is always true that we do not really belong to ourselves. It is always true that God bought us at a price. And God’s call to honor Him with our bodies does not end at sexual purity because He calls us to honor Him in all things. Therefore, our physical health and our faith walk are intricately connected.
It boils down to stewardship: our bodies are a gift God gave us to take care of and use to His glory. God does not care what we look like, but He cares what we do with what He has given us. And the healthier we are physically, the more prepared we will be for whatever kind of service God might lay in our path.
When I see working out as a way to ready myself to serve the Lord, I find strength to do it that I never would have found if I had been working toward some physical state for myself. Furthermore, I do not have to wait several weeks or months for the goal of my efforts to be realized, because the Lord is pleased by the attitude of my heart that leads me to exercise even once.
I am still not consistent in my exercise. And I need the encouragement that comes from exercising with a friend. But apart from that, I have found a reason to exercise that energizes me, and I take joy in preparing myself to serve my Lord using the body He has entrusted to me and the strength He provides.
How about you? What have you found that keeps you motivated to exercise over the long haul?