Every once in a rare while, I am approached by a person who asks me a unique question. “How did your fitness journey influence your spiritual life?” Our stories are powerful, and as the question demands to be answered, it is time to share this particular one.
When I was fairly young, I had a growth disorder that caused me to grow much too fast. In order to slow this growth down, I received a large dose of medicine through a monthly shot. Not only did these shots cause me to gain a tremendous amount of weight, but they set the scene for the years to come: lack of confidence, uncomfortable in my own skin, and seeking approval about my physical appearance.
While those three things might send some people into a pattern of eating disorders, overdoing workouts or restrictive diets, they did the opposite for me. I fell into a consistent lifestyle of unhealthy relationships with food, laziness, and being the ‘loud and sarcastic one’ because I knew I would never be considered the ‘pretty’ one. These habits followed me in all of my relationships, but particular the dating ones I was involved in.
Senior year rolled around, and I was growing less and less content with how I was living. I have worked at fitness centers in one role or another since I was sixteen years old, so not only was I unsatisfied with my undisciplined lifestyle, but I was daily witnessing people who if not emotionally or spiritually, at least had physical discipline. I was jealous, in awe, and discouraged myself continuously through the mindset that I was not capable of doing the same things these people were.
Still seeking to hold on to Christ as my joy and my satisfaction, one word kept being put on my heart: discipline. I knew it was what I was lacking, and I knew that the lack of discipline negatively influenced every aspect of my life. So, I stepped up to an edge, and jumped off.
The week after my eighteenth birthday, I started kickboxing.
That first class, I thought I could potentially die. I had never been able to keep a workout routine up for more than a couple of weeks before, and I had never done workouts that intense. However, as the weeks passed, I continued to show up, and death was on my brain a little bit less during class. As 2015 approached, I started to add in weightlifting, running, and other exercise.
I also started to look at how I was eating. I didn’t usually drink a lot of soda, but I decided that I was going to cut it out completely, and with that, fast food. I began to control my portions, and to eat to fuel my body, not just to eat. I changed the types of food I was eating as well, reaching for the things that my body needed, not that my taste buds necessarily needed.
What I was doing must have worked, because in the time following, I lost fifty pounds and packed on pound after pound of muscle.
Some people end their story right there, but my story has continued. A year after I started
my fitness journey, I ran my first 5K with my brother. I felt like dying the entire race, but I finished it. Not only that, but I came in THIRD in my age bracket, which contained everyone between eighteen and thirty.
There have been other victories, such as being able to run the Gladiator Assault Challenge, a brutal mud run, earlier this year (and hopefully next year too!), reaching weight lifting goals, becoming a fitness inspiration, adviser, and influence for other people, and living a
healthier lifestyle with so much more energy and strength. Yet, I find that the most difference in the realms of my life doesn’t come from the mountaintops, the victories; it comes from the valleys and the plateaus in between.
Even though I lost so much weight and had gained self-discipline, there were still struggles. Physically, it has been really hard hitting the inevitable plateaus and not seeing results from the work I have put in, or to go through seasons where I put a few of the pounds back on. Emotionally, it took a really long time for me to step into the confidence I should have as a child of God; to not look at things and think, “Oh, I can’t do that,” but to look at the difficult things, realize I was capable of taking them on, and conquering them.
Spiritually, God has spoken to my heart so much. He taught me contentment, reminding me that it is HIM who satisfies, and that comparison and striving for a ‘perfect’ body, not just a healthy and strong one, would ultimately disappoint. He has also taught me that although it is important to be disciplined and strong, my internal value outweighs my external value. 1 Timothy 4:8 put it best when Paul wrote, “For physical training is of some value, but godliness has value for all things, holding promise for both the present life and the life to come.”
God also taught me balance. I got to a point where I would feel extremely guilty if I missed a workout or ate a large and unhealthy meal. This is something I still struggle with, but God has continually reminded me that legalism and unhealthy guilt are more damaging than they are helpful. He has taught me that in order to take the best possible care of this body he gave me, I must become balanced.
Ultimately folks, if you take away a lesson from my story, let it be this. We are vessels. We are a place for the Spirit of God to dwell. Our souls have absolute eternal value, but we cannot ignore the importance of our physical body or how the two are intertwined. Let us all strive toward health and discipline in order to become the best place to dwell possible.