I’m not the biggest fan of working out. In fact, I’m not a fan. 30 days ago I was coming out of a season of intense spiritual growth. I was in a study with a few friends that focused heavily on removing pressures to sin, ungodly beliefs, and more. During that time my focus on the study was so intense that I did not have much time and energy for anything besides work and everyday life. All the margin was eaten up.
Once I finished the study, I left for my church’s Mexico mission trip. I get sick every year on the trip–I think I might be allergic to Mexico. When I got home, I knew I wanted to refocus on physical health. As I continued to process all God taught me in my study, I wanted a physical challenge. I got my roommates to buy-in and my husband ordered us the exercise program I wanted to try. On a Friday morning we began a 3 week journey of intense exercise every day and very clean eating.
My sweet husband, who apparently has so much faith in me, ordered me the extreme version of the program. I opened the box and my heart skipped a beat. What was I getting myself into? I’m the kid who never exercised. After ballet class I would lay down in the corner ’cause I was so tired. I never played sports and cardio is my nemesis (I just think people should be allowed to breathe). 90 days ago I was amusing my family trying to do a sit-up.
Clearly work was needed in this area. Exercise is healthy and even though I don’t enjoy it, sometimes it’s good to do the hard things because they’re the right things. I’ve lived that in my mental life. I’ve lived that in my spiritual life. I’ve lived that in almost every area of my life–but the physical one is the hardest for me. So I’ve been going after it this year.
When I developed food allergies at 17, that was the first long lesson in physical discipline. I could eat whatever I wanted growing up without any physical consequences…and I did. But then I developed food allergies and it took several years to figure out how I needed to eat. I’m allergic to wheat, dairy, and eggs. So I eat very clean, natural foods by habit now. But I’m not allergic to sugar. And that’s where my unhealthy habits have focused in. I should own stock in Skittles. Recently my mom told me she made me a cake for family dinner. I found the cake and ate it…3/4 of the way through my mom, horrified, asked, “did you leave any for Jen?” I looked at her dumbfounded…if you meant you made a cake for Jen and I, you should have said that. Sorry Jen.
So restricting my diet to healthy foods was something I’m familiar with. But pushing my body to the limit in exercising, not so much. I was taking on more than I ever had before and at a time where I couldn’t compensate the physical stress with eating the sugar I craved.
Here’s what I learned…
- During a hard workout, when they say “stay hydrated,” they are lying. “Stay hydrated” doesn’t mean “drink lots of water” like they say it does. It means take tiny sips or you’ll get very nauseous. Just for the record, people should be clear about that. Now that that’s out of the way, some deeper lessons…
- Focus on the moment and just a tiny bit ahead when you are in the middle of something challenging. The idea of the next workout, forget that, the next round was too much–I was at my best when I focused on doing what I had to do in that minute to finish the exercise successfully. Draw the parallels to other areas of life at will.
- The mind has a lot of control over the body. Thoughts like “I’m so tired” or “this one has a bonus round” instantly shot exhaustion throughout my body. Thoughts like “I’m doing better than last week” or “a little pain is worth health” gave my energy a lift.
- The body must be listened to. There’s a difference between good pain and bad pain in exercise. I’m not used to having to stop and admit that I can’t do it…and then persevere once I’m just rested enough to continue. To not be able to do something perfectly usually makes me want to not do it at all. But continuing to push leads to the bad kind of pain and then it’s not about health, it’s about my ego and my idea of myself as someone who can achieve anything.
- Early on in this regimen I read a Bible verse that encapsulated what I was working on. It was more than a look to achieve or a goal to accomplish. It was something very good for my relationship with God and my mission in His world.
5 For this very reason, make every effort to add to your faith goodness; and to goodness, knowledge; 6 and to knowledge, self-control; and to self-control, perseverance; and to perseverance, godliness; 7 and to godliness, mutual affection; and to mutual affection, love. 8 For if you possess these qualities in increasing measure, they will keep you from being ineffective and unproductive in your knowledge of our Lord Jesus Christ. 2 Peter 1:5-8
I’m working on self-control. The ability to want something and choose not to have it. Or to not want something and still force yourself to do it. Sometimes it’s good to fill up the margin in your life with hard things. Challenging things. Things that will build in you the things you will need later down the road when you lack the time to gain them. It’s a down season for me and I’m so glad I filled the down time with something that kept a good type of pressure on. A pressure that will keep me from being ineffective.
I’m also really glad I ate waffles this morning at our celebratory brunch. Good work should be rewarded. Seasons end and when you do it right, you can take the pressure off and have the lessons stick. That’s what I suspect happened in these last several days.