The abundant and full life! It’s one of the best promises of God, especially in contrast to the works of the evil one that are designed to steal, kill and destroy.
The thief comes only to steal and kill and destroy;
I have come that they may have life, and have it to the full.
In the past month, I’ve learned something about what it means to be a full participant in the full life that Jesus provides, rather than a spectator. And my commitment to fitness was a big part of that!
In the month of October, I took the trip of a lifetime - a trip that I had prayed for many years ago. God answered my prayer and gave me the opportunity to go to Germany to visit family and then on to Italy to experience Venice, Florence and Rome! Even better was that I got to go with my daughter and my husband met up with us for the last part of the trip.
Travelling with my daughter was both fun and challenging. That girl walked me into the ground and encouraged me to step outside of my safety and comfort zones!
After a long day of walking in Florence, she informed me that we would be climbing 469 steep steps to the top of the Florence duomo to get a view of Florence at sunset! I honestly worried that I would not be able to do it and even thought about backing out. But I braved those steps and was able to make it to the top with much less difficulty that I had expected. The rewards of seeing the painting on the inside dome up close and the beautiful view of Florence from the top of the cathedral were well worth it!
After spending a full day walking the streets of Rome, my daughter informed me that we would be waking up early the next morning to climb to the top of St. Peter’s Basilica. That morning, there would be no other way to describe me than as cranky and irritable and I seriously considered taking a pass. I appreciated her concession to take the elevator part of the way up, but there were still 300 steps to climb after that. And I am so glad that I climbed them! After Florence, those 300 steps seemed like a piece of cake! The rewards of getting to touch the mosaics inside the dome and have a cup of cappuccino with my daughter while enjoying the view from the roof of St. Peter’s was absolutely worth the effort!
Both of those stair climbs were highlights of my trip! And because I invested in the commitment to regular exercise, I was able to fully participate and not be held back by my lack of cardiovascular endurance!
My commitment to fitness has allowed me to be a full participant in the full life that God has given me!
That’s not because I am special - I am not an athlete and I don’t look like anything other than a typical woman in her mid-50’s. But I have consistently fulfilled my commitment to exercise regularly and that is what allowed me to be a full participant in my trip of a lifetime!
That's not to say that the full and abundant life consists of experiences (such as my trip) or possessions. The full and abundant life consists of having the fullness of Christ living within us and the hope of an everlasting life with Him. But I am thankful that Christ also gives us fullness of life through the many blessings and opportunities He gives us. They will be big and small and they change with every season of life.
What about you? In what ways has Jesus made your life full in this season of life? Jesus provides us with many opportunities to enjoy a full life and that will look different for each and every person. But are you a full participant? Are there any commitments or changes to your health habits that need to be made so that you can be a full participant in the opportunities to live a full life that God brings your way?
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When it comes to exercise, I wonder how many of us fail to achieve the consistency we desire because we are so very focused on doing exercise the way we think it is supposed to be done based on what we read, what we assume and what we see in other people we know. I sure have seen this in my life.
There was a time in my life where I felt like I should take up running because everyone was doing it and I had several clients that were runners. My only success with running was to participate in a 5K Turkey Trot. I was glad to complete it with my family, but I honestly did not enjoy the running part. As much as I felt like I should be a runner, running is just not for me.
My husband Bob could tell you about the number of pieces of unused indoor exercise equipment that have been in our house at various times over our marriage. It seems so logical to have some good exercise equipment in the house for the winter months. But the truth is that I greatly dislike exercising indoors by myself. If I do exercise indoors, I want to be with other people in an exercise class set to some great music.
Other than T-shirts, there is pretty much no area of life where we are “one size fits all.” In scripture we see that we all have different roles and gifts (Romans 12:4-7) and from creation we see that we are fearfully and wonderfully made (Psalm 139:14) with a distinct personality, strengths and weaknesses. The result of our uniqueness is that comparisons no longer make sense. Consider the words of Jesus to Peter when Peter began to wonder how John’s future journey would compare to his own:
Peter turned and saw that the disciple whom Jesus loved was following them…When Peter saw him, he asked, “Lord, what about him?” Jesus answered, “If I want him to remain alive until I return, what is that to you? You must follow me.” (John 21:20-22)
Jesus’s answer is interesting – “What is that to you? You must follow me.” Peter was to focus only on walking out his own unique calling rather than focusing on how it compared to John’s.
We often get into the trap of comparing ourselves to others rather than walking out our own journey based on our own uniqueness. And that includes our health goals and habits.
When it comes to exercise, why should we look outside of ourselves to discover the type of exercise we really enjoy and therefore will do consistently? Our kids were a great example of this. When our kids were at home, Bob and I encouraged them to live a healthy lifestyle by making cycling trips a regular family activity. Almost every Saturday during the warm times of the year, we would pack some snacks, put the bikes on the rack and drive to a nearby trail for some exercise and fun family time. We noticed that, when we took those bike rides, our kids distinct personalities emerged in the way they approached our cycling activities.
Stephanie would always ride behind us on the trail. Not because she was unfit, but because she was curious and interested to explore the surroundings. She would want to bike at a slow to moderate pace to take in the sights of nature and she would stop and get off her bike often to watch a frog on a lily pad or examine a beautiful flower or leaf. This was true to her personality as she is our creative child who, as an adult, has a day job as an editor and writes her own novels at night. Stephanie loves to take time to enjoy, explore and create beautiful things and it shows up in many aspects of her life.
Matthew would always be cycling a good distance ahead of the rest of the family and enjoyed going as fast as we would let him. He wanted to complete the bike ride and he wanted to finish first. This was true to his personality as he is our child who loved cross country races and thrives on conquering whatever is in front of him. As an adult, he works as an engineer who works on design projects with a focus on getting the job done by solving problems making sure things are completed correctly and on time.
Our two different children with two distinct personalities made our bike rides sometimes challenging, but they both experienced the fitness benefits of our consistent family cycling trips because they had the freedom to enjoy them in accordance with how God made them.
So, if you are struggling to exercise consistently, here are two good questions to ask yourself:
1. What moves me to move? What adds fun and enjoyment to my exercise session?
The things that move me to move are:
2. What kind of physical activity did I enjoy doing as a child when I engaged in exercise/movement because it was fun?
Around the topic of exercise and fitness, there is so much written information and so many innovative fitness products to sort through. But the one central truth about exercise is this:
The best type of exercise is the one that you will actually do because you enjoy it! And consistently doing what you enjoy will not be all that hard because it is based on your own God-given unique personality and experiences.
What about you? Are you struggling to succeed at exercising consistently because you are more focused on what you think you are supposed to do rather than what you really enjoy doing? Why not make your own list of what moves you to move? Knowing yourself and honoring your own uniqueness is an important key to a consistent exercise habit.
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There are many ways to think about physical fitness. When it comes to exercise, I think that sometimes our biggest barrier to staying motivated to be consistent is an overwhelming and often irrelevant picture of why we should improve or maintain our fitness level.
Think about our sources of motivation to get fit in our society –
The Fitness Model/Celebrity – We see them in almost every advertisement for a fitness class or equipment and we aspire to their greatness. They are lean with not a lump or bump anywhere. They have perfect curves or chiseled muscles and a slight tan to enhance the look of health and vitality. And don’t forget that signature smile that reflects satisfaction in the societal advantages that can be yours if only you could look this way.
The Athlete – We show great admiration for great athletes. We give them applause and celebrity status. In monetary terms, we value their contribution to society more than that of a doctor, nurse or teacher. In terms of attention, we give them praise for their accomplishments more than for Nobel Prize winners.
As Christians, we would consider this type of thinking to be worldly. But even in the Christian community, we set up these hierarchies of greatness to motivate us. I once heard a Christian encourage people to get fit using the admonition “If God asked you to build an ark, could you physically do it?” This question is very motivational. Who would not want to be the one who, because of their strength and vitality, could be an ark builder for God?
But the truth is that for every person called to attain physical attributes of a visible ark builder, there are many others who contribute to the cause from behind the scenes doing very sedentary activities, such as: fundraising, prayer, accounting, encouragement, supply chain management, instruction and training, quality control.
So maybe the best motivation to get and stay fit is not to aspire to do or be something great, but simply to be full participants in the life God has given us and to be able to do what we are called to do with effectiveness, energy and excellence.
Rather than motivating yourself to stay fit to meet the challenge of doing some kind of great work for God that may not even be within your ability, giftedness or calling, it may be wiser to ask:
Is there any place in the my life where I am being held back from doing or fully participating in what God has assigned for me to do because of my level of fitness? Is there any area of life where, rather than participating, I find myself staying on the sidelines because I know that I will be too fatigued, winded or embarrassed?
In other words, a fitness goal does not have to involve the pursuit of greatness. A good fitness goal can be very ordinary, such as:
God may call you to build an ark or to do some other monumental task that requires a very high level of fitness. Or God may call you to be a fun-loving parent, engaged employee or involved neighbor. The type of calling is not the issue. A quick read through 1 Corinthians 12 shows us that God has given each of us different gifts and is interested in our participation in His work. The perceived greatness of our work is not the issue.
There are different kinds of gifts, but the same Spirit distributes them.
There are different kinds of service, but the same Lord.
There are different kinds of working, but in all of them and in everyone it is the same God at work.
1 Corinthians 12:4-6
The point of pursing fitness is that we are able to be full participants in whatever we are called to do. And when we look at it that way, the pursuit of fitness goes from being overwhelming to ordinary and therefore becomes very attainable.
How about you? Is there any place in your life where you are being held back from fully participating in what God has assigned you to do because of your level of fitness? Is there any area of life where, rather than participating, you find yourself staying on the sidelines because you know that you will be too fatigued, winded or embarrassed? If so, what is an ordinary fitness goal that you can set for yourself this week?
Throughout the years, I have seen many quotes about the value of “just showing up”:
“Just showing up is half the battle.” – Woody Allen
“Just show up and things will happen.” – Mother Theresa
“To stay on the map, you’ve got to keep showing up.” – Peter Gallagher
The older I get, the more I see the value of this wisdom, especially when it comes to being consistent about getting regular physical exercise. In fact, this past Monday morning was one big lesson on the importance of just showing up.
At 6:30 AM, I woke up and started making my coffee and reminded myself that, if I was going to make to my exercise class, I had to be out the door by 7:50 AM. Immediately, my thoughts went to all the reasons why it may be a good idea for me to skip my exercise class that day:
“I have some important things I want to get done, so maybe I should skip my exercise class and take the dog for a walk after I finish my to-do list.”
“My joints feel a little stiff; maybe I should take the day off and just do a little stretching.”
“It’s a cloudy, dreary day and I don’t feel very energetic. Maybe I should go tomorrow instead.”
At 8:00 AM, I was driving to my exercise class and thinking of several reasons why it may be best for me to turn around and go home.
“The poor dog really needs to be walked, so maybe I should go home and make that my first priority.”
“My husband needs some exercise too. Maybe I should skip my class and just plan on taking a walk with him after work.”
“I don’t feel like doing this, so maybe I should go home and go to my exercise class tomorrow when I will have more energy to put into it.”
At 8:15 AM, I had finished my pre-workout stretching, the instructor started the class and, while I was going through the physical motions, my mind was wandering:
“I don’t want to be here.”
“My heart just is not into this today.”
“I’ll do what I can, but it may be the bare minimum.”
At 8:25 AM, something interesting happened. There was a shift in my thinking which led to a shift in my attitude which led to surge of energy in my body. It’s as if my body woke up when my mind said to the rest of me:
“We are committed to be here for the next 50 minutes and we’ve made it through the first 10 minutes and we are okay. So, let’s kick it up a notch and see what we can do.”
“Honestly, it’s feeling pretty good to move right now. Maybe being here is a good thing”
“After a workout, it always feels like it was worth it.”
At 9:20 AM, I was out in the parking lot walking to my car to drive home and I felt great! My body felt invigorated, my mind was clear, my spirit was thankful and making it through another workout brought some emotional satisfaction.
I wish I could explain the shift in my thinking, but I can’t. I didn’t will it to happen, it just did. The only thing I can take any credit for is the fact that I just showed up.
My Monday morning experience reinforced to me that, if I want to be a person who makes consistent exercise a priority in my life, I need to stop thinking about how I feel, what else needs to be done and what other things I could or should be doing and, instead, I need to just show up.*
Wise King Solomon reminds us that:
“Whoever watches the wind will not plant; whoever looks at the clouds will not reap.” (Ecclesiastes 11:4)
Or put another way:
Don’t sit there watching the wind. Do your own work. Don’t stare at the clouds. Get on with your life.
(Ecclesiastes 11:4, The Message)
If we put our focus on our feelings, circumstances and subsequent excuses, we will have a hard time moving forward with anything. But if we decide to just show up, who knows that God won’t supply the strength for us to succeed despite our feelings and circumstances?
“The Sovereign Lord is my strength; he makes my feet like the feet of a deer,
he enables me to tread on the heights.” (Habakkuk 3:19)
How about you? Whether it is your exercise routine or some other priority, is there any place in your life where the best decision you can make right now is to just show up?
*Please don’t take this statement to mean that we should not listen to our bodies or the re-direction of our plans from the Holy Spirit. There are times when we are not feeling well and taking a day off exercise may be the best decision. The key here is awareness, wisdom and discernment. If you are not sure, it may be wise to pray about it by asking this question, “Is my decision to skip exercise based on a warning signal from my body or a prompt from the Holy Spirit, or is it based on an excuse?
During the first week of February, for a period of about 30 minutes, I had a lively mental intersection with the word intentional – doing something on purpose.
Those of you who don’t live in the Midwest may not know that during the first week of February those of us who live in the Chicago area were dealing with snow – what I would call a serious snow (about 10 inches) which we have not seen in a few years. And part of dealing with this serious snow involved getting out and starting up the snow blower. This is a relatively new thing for us. For the first 30 years of our marriage, we dealt with snow the old fashioned way – with snow shovels. But a few years ago, some good friends moved south and sold us what my husband calls “the Barbie snow blower” because of its small, compact size and easy maneuverability (assuming you can get the thing started). But start it did and I was glad about that.
And so I went about the process of snow blowing and as I did so, all I could think about was my dad. My dad managed snow removal at my childhood home with a drive way that is three times the length of my current driveway. I remember seeing him out there wearing his black Russian hat and bravely shoveling that snow for hours until the driveway was passable. And when that was done, he would go over to my grandparent’s house and help them.
I’m going to be honest enough to admit that I really enjoy the comfort and convenience of our newly acquired snow blower. But my 30 minutes of snow blowing made me keenly aware of how much of my life is ruled by things designed for my comfort or convenience. What used to be a pretty good workout on a snowy day has now become nothing more than a brief interruption in my schedule. And as I thought about this, I was convicted of why it is so very important that I be intentional, as opposed to indifferent, about actively moving my body throughout the day. And I was, in a sense, disappointed with myself when I thought about how easily I have readily accepted and enjoyed things that enhance my comfort and convenience often without giving a thought about the impact of those things on my health.
With all of our creature comforts, it is just so easy to make “taking it easy” a way of life. Consider the contrast reported in a study of Old Order Amish adults (Dr. Bassett, University of Tennessee, 2004) where it was found that these average Amish adult males and females took over 18,000 and 14,000 steps per day respectively, while the average American struggles to even approach the commonly recommended 10,000 steps per day.
King Solomon addresses the problem of getting into the habit of “taking it easy” in Proverbs 24:30-34:
I went past the field of a sluggard, past the vineyard of someone who has no sense;
thorns had come up everywhere, the ground was covered with weeds,
and the stone wall was in ruins.
I applied my heart to what I observed and learned a lesson from what I saw:
A little sleep, a little slumber, a little folding of the hands to rest--
and poverty will come on you like a thief and scarcity like an armed man.
While this passage does not specifically refer to the maintenance of our health, I believe there are some helpful considerations and applications. King Solomon looks at someone’s vineyard and observes that, instead of producing fruit, it is in a state of neglect and disrepair. From this, he learns the lesson that a little “taking it easy” can, over time, lead to a significant negative result. This lesson rings true in just about every area of life, including the maintenance of our health.
To be indifferent is to have no particular interest or be unconcerned.
To be intentional is to do something deliberately or on purpose.
My 30 minutes of snow blowing reminded me that I need to be careful to not be indifferent to the potential negative impact of removing snow the easy way. Given all of my creature comforts, if I am going to actively move my body every day, I will have to make an intentional decision to do that rather than leaving it to chance. Does this mean that I have to get rid of my snow blower and do everything manually as do many of the Amish? Not necessarily. But it does mean that, if I do partake of the comfort and convenience offered by my snow blower, I need to intentionally find another way to incorporate physical activity into my life.
How about you? Do you have some creature comforts? Have you become accustomed to their presence and indifferent to the potential negative impact on your daily activity levels? Have you made an intentional decision to maintain an active lifestyle in another way?
When it comes to daily activity, don’t be indifferent to the impact of your favorite creature comforts, but do be intentional about maintaining a healthy level of physical activity in spite of them.
“You need to be exorcised!” Would you believe that I hear these words often and that I love it every time? Please let me explain.
Bob (my husband) and I enjoy cycling together. Almost every weekend in the spring, summer and fall, we take a fun bike ride on a trail or we bike to a restaurant to eat lunch and then bike back home. We started doing this about 15 years ago when Bob gave me a new bike for my 40th birthday because he knew I enjoyed cycling when I was a kid. For years, we took weekend family bike rides with our kids and we have continued that tradition as empty nesters.
One part of our weekly bike ride that has become a tradition is that, at some point, Bob will pick up his speed, whiz past me and yell the words “You need to be exorcised!”
Translation: Pick up the speed or get left behind! I accept that challenge and we ride the next few miles at a leg burning and heart pounding pace.
“You need to be exorcised!” It’s a fun play on words. I need to not just be exercised, but exorcised. The word exorcise is typically used when we talk about spiritual warfare as the act of attempting to drive out (a supposed evil spirit) from a person or place.*. Spiritual warfare is serious. Bob’s play on words is funny. But the two come together for a very important purpose – to utilize exercise to help me fight my spiritual battles. Yes, you heard that right! Exercise is one of my battle strategies in spiritual warfare. In fact, I am amazed at how victorious I can be when I am working out regularly (1 Corinthians 10:13).
You see, I have some demons (1 Peter 5:8-9) – demons that tempt me to do things like:
Why do I need to be “exorcised?” Consider that the synonyms for the word “exorcise” are: drive out, cast out, expel.*
Exercise helps to drive out, cast out and expel my negative emotions so that I can think clearly enough to deal with my problematic circumstances in a God-honoring way!
Perhaps the best way to explain this is to give an example. I remember one day during our early years of marriage, Bob did something that upset me. I was waiting for him to come home so that I could, in my anger, tell him all about it. At that moment, my focus was on wanting to vent my emotions rather than to honor God and my marriage relationship. Good thing for Bob that he was running late that day and so I decided to go to my aerobics class and vent my emotions when I got back. A funny thing happened at my aerobics class. I had a great workout and I walked out of that workout in a completely different emotional state than when I arrived. What happened? That good workout drove out, cast out and expelled my intense emotions. I then went home and had a good discussion with Bob about the problematic issue. I said what I needed to say in a way the honored God and my husband and we discussed a resolution to the problem. Now that’s what I call a victory in spiritual warfare!
So, how about you? Could exercise help you to effectively fight some of your spiritual battles? Could a good workout help to drive out, cast out and expel some of your negative emotions that sometimes drive ungodly behavior? I don’t know about you, but I freely admit it. I need to be exorcised on a regular basis!.
*Source: Oxford Dictionary
Here in Chicago, many people are beginning their final phase of training for the annual Chicago Marathon which is one month away. We admire these dedicated individuals for the courage and discipline needed to take on and conquer such a challenge.
When it comes to staying physically healthy, challenging our bodies to perform is important. When we ask our body to rise to a challenge, as long as it is not beyond what is safely within our capabilities, it responds by adapting to the workload which increases our strength and endurance.
But the good news is that we don't have to be marathon runners to experience the benefits of embracing a physical challenge. There are many health benefits to be gained by embracing some small challenges and the advantage of small challenges is that they are easily incorporated into everyday life. Detailed training plans and an extensive time investment are not required. Please allow me to share an example from my own life on how setting up small challenges can produce some big health benefits.
My husband, Bob, travels a great deal for business and so, when I can, I try to go with him when he is going to someplace of interest. This past July we took a trip to San Francisco. I have found that setting up some small challenges when we are travelling is a good idea because they keep me focused on getting some level of exercise when I am out of my usual routine. Small challenges work well because they don't require a great deal of planning and they can be easily fit into my travel itinerary.
Everyone knows that San Francisco is famous for its cable cars. And those cable cars were invented for a very good reason - STEEP HILLS! We were staying in a hotel just off of California Street and to get to many tourist destinations, the hill (almost 20% grade at its steepest) had to be traversed somehow. So, I made up my mind to challenge myself to, at least once, climb that hill to get to where I needed to go. I'm happy to report that I was able to successfully make it up that hill and it felt good to be able to do so. But the point is that the thought of taking on the small challenge of that hill had an influence on my behavior the weeks before. When I walked the dog at home, I walked a little longer and a little more briskly. I did a little more cycling to build of some endurance. I watched my eating habits because I knew that, if I had a few extra pounds, I would have to take them up that hill with me!
So, maybe you are not a marathon runner - neither am I! But that doesn't mean that you can't set up some small challenges to conquer so long as those challenges are not beyond what you can safely take on without risk of illness or injury. Remember that weekend warriors get into trouble, not because they take on a challenge, but because they do so with little forethought, planning and preparation.
What are some small challenges that you could set up for yourself as we enter this fall season? There is no need to run a marathon unless you really want to! A series of small challenges will go a long way toward helping you to preserve and improve your level of fitness.
Small fitness challenges keep our fitness level on our radar screen without overwhelming us and they can also be fun.
I had fun walking up that hill and, even though I was breathing hard at the top, I felt really good to have conquered my challenge! Remember, those marathon runners had to start with some small challenges too!
Do you feel discouraged about your level of fitness? If so, don't negate the value of starting with some small challenges and remember these encouraging words, "Do not despise these small beginnings, for the Lord rejoices to see the work begin..." (Zecharaiah 4:10, NLT)
About the author:
Hello! My name is Ginger Hill and I am a Christ follower and a wellness professional. Over the years, I have personally and professionally seen the benefits of healthy living and I have also seen the hardships of struggling to practice good health habits in the midst of a busy and sometimes stressful life. I am passionate about helping myself and others to live a healthy lifestyle and I believe that good health is essential in helping us to do the good works that God has called us to do. Because I am a work in progress, I write these blog posts to encourage myself and I share them with others in the hope that they may be encouraged as well.
Psalm 92:12,14 (NLT)
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