Moving our bodies isn’t just about commitment or health, but about honoring the way God created us.
Over the past two decades, I have learned that regular activity is not only the key to good physical and psychological health, but also more socially and spiritually engaged. As a married father of 8 children, a child psychologist and someone who has demands coming from all fronts, daily exercise is essential. As I often tell people when they ask me if I have any races coming up, first and foremost I am training for life.
Having been blessed with over 40,000 engine-free miles on the road, an Ironman, several ultramarathons and a number of other endurance opportunities, many people might mistakenly believe that I exercise daily with little or no resistance. But in fact, like everyone else, I regularly feel the need to relax and even be lazy (sometimes important for health and sanity). Finding the right balance between physical exercise or any type of work and rest is always a work in progress.
Exercise honors the One who created us
Yet, I view my daily exercise as a covenant with God, not just a commitment or desire to be healthy. It’s a covenant because God created our bodies in his image and likeness, and a healthy lifestyle — including regular activity — honors that design.
Moreover, while commitments are bound by obligation—which often leaves us reluctant about what “we should do”—covenants are bound by love, which leaves us longing for oneness with it.
Yet even with this mindset, obstacles exist and any attempt to develop a healthy lifestyle must encounter and overcome them. Often there is another level of resistance that undermines our ability to act as God intends and that is the intrapersonal level, or what we might call that pesky inner voicewhich can prevent us from performing the activity we need.
I thought it might be helpful to take you “with you” in regards to how I deal with the obstacles of the internal nice in my own life. As you will notice in the examples below, I constantly use self-talk, prayer, observation, interaction, and other methods to deal with the different types of resistance that arise. Resistance to daily exercise comes in many forms such as loneliness, boredom, injuries, fears, activity strain, etc.
Here are some brief examples of how I approach these questions before and during the activity. Note: my self-talk is in italics.
Wednesday afternoon, 5:15 p.m.
[I take off on my bike from work. I commute this way most days as part of a 13 mile round- trip.] What a beautiful afternoon – hmm, there’s a good headwind. Thank you, my God, for the tailwind this morning and yesterday afternoon, and the dry road. [Tuesday was a rainy ride.] The fall colors are gorgeous – I love the bright oranges and reds.17 small segments to return home, facing the wind. [I mentally like to break my rides into segments, which changeover each turn.] Oh, people I’ve never seen before walking through Oak Hill Cemetery – what a great night for a walk! [I wave at them as I pass by.] Thank you, my God, for the new sidewalk laid over the potholes (on a bridge about a mile from my house.) I love this last big climb even if it’s hard; it feels good to breathe deeply. [I arrive home.] Thank you, my God, for a safe journey.
Thursday morning, 4:37 a.m.
[Alarm goes off for an early swim and run. Outside temperature is 39.] Thank you, Lord, for a good night’s sleep. Cool morning for a swim, but after a few laps I know it will warm up. [Arrive at the swim facility.] Good to see some other cars this morning – the high school kids from the local swim team are out. Impressed that they are ready to get up so early. [Walk in doors, and see my “friend” at the front desk.] Appreciate the smile and the short conversations – it’s fun to see. [Arrive at pool deck, and see familiar local family training, and catch up for a few minutes before I hop in, while their daughter swims next to me.] Wow, she moves fast – cool that someone could actually swim that fast. Feel a little tight this morning – I’ll dedicate it to dad. [My father has had two hip surgeries and a triple bypass in the past two years.] It’ll work as always… it’s time for the breathing exercises. You don’t like the feeling of less oxygen, but as always, Bob, these are for you. [Bob is a dear friend who passed away years ago from a rare form of lung cancer.] It’s good that the new aquatic center is busy and I like being part of this early movement before the sun comes up. Thank you, my God, for the good swim.
Ultimately, as in many aspects of our lives, it is essential that we engage the various voices and disincentives to what we know to be good and life-giving. The reality is that while most of us know the importance of regular physical activity, this understanding alone is not enough to support daily exercise. As it says in Psalms 119:32, “I run in the path of your commandments, for you have enlarged my understanding. So we must too.
An expanded version of this article is available here.
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