Thursday, February 3, 2011

Spiritual fitness: do you want to look good or be strong?

I was skinny once.  And I hated it.

I rejoined the YMCA this week after a two year hiatus and as I was in the middle of my first workout, I thought again about my fitness goals.  When I was in high school and the first part of college my goal was to be skinny.  I thought all the girls who looked good, and especially the ones who got male attention, were skinny, so I wanted to be skinny so I could look good too.  I read all the magazines that had the special workouts to "flatten your stomach" or "get sexy legs in three weeks" and went on really bizarre diets, the strangest of which was a diet where you only eat food that's orange.  I was 5'11" and weighed 175 lbs.  Looking back, that was a very healthy weight, but my goal wasn't to be healthy, it was to be skinny and pretty, so I worked really hard at looking better and getting skinnier.

Then there came a time in college where I did get skinny.  Really skinny.  Instead of working out and building muscle that would help me look lean, I put myself through a ridiculous amount of stress and my body revolted.  In two months time, I lost 50 lbs and weighed a mere 125 lbs.  I met my goal of being skinny, but I was no where near healthy, nor attractive and worse than that, I had no strength or physical stamina, so I really couldn't do much of anything until I reached the point where I just broke down.

The upside to that was that I realized I would much rather be strong and have endurance than worry about being skinny.  It was more important to me that could do whatever physical work I wanted, than obtaining a particular size or seeing a certain number on the scale.  And most important, I realized being healthy and strong made me much more useful and attractive than being skinny did.

Now my fitness goal is to be strong and have endurance.  I may be ogre-sized, 5'11" 225 lbs, but I'm strong enough to do just about anything I want and I can work all day long.  And what is important is I'm healthy and feel better physically than I ever have in my life.

I realized today that the same holds true for our spiritual fitness.  Many people buy into the myth that their goal in being a follower of Christ should be to go to church every week, volunteer more, only listen to Christian music, not watch R rated movies, or go to more Bible studies.  They do, do, do, trying to "look good" to the Christian culture, only to look back and see that they haven't had any kind of relationship with God while they were doing.  They end up feeling depressed and dejected because they feel like they are being a model Christian, but they know they are far from God.

It's not that doing any of those things are wrong, but the goal of them is wrong, so the intended outcome is missed.  They want to "look good", look like a Christian and act like a Christian, but they miss out on the power, strength, and blessings which God wants to pour out on us.  The goal should be doing whatever we need to do to get close to God, which involves surrendering ourselves to Him.  That could involve praying or reading the Bible more.  It could involve serving more.  It could also involve doing things that don't make us look so good, like missing the church potluck dinner so that we can have some time to quiet our mind and soul, or sometimes choosing non-Christians to hang out with over our Christian friends so that we can have the opportunity to be a conduit of Christ's love to them.

We need to focus on being strong and having endurance in our Christian walk and not so much on looking good to others.  That comes from submission of our will to that of Jesus' and Jesus isn't always going to ask us to do things that make us look good to others.  What we need to realize is even though we may not look good in the moment, our closeness to the Lord makes us healthy and strong, which is far more beautiful than merely conforming to the culture of Christianity.


Penny said...

Amen, Jenny-keep on writing!

Jenny said...

Awww...thanks Penny! What a compliment from the best devotional writer I know!!!

Yay! My first comment!