Thursday, January 24, 2008

Finding God in Fitness

Back in August I came to a realization. I realized that even though I wasn't "unhappy" with my health, that it could stand to be a lot better. I'm overweight, and I was decidedly unhappy with how I looked in some of our better wedding pictures. I thought about the future and any potential children and decided that I didn't want to be that mom who couldn't really move around the yard to play a game of tag or football or something.

I talked to my doctor and we agreed that I needed to start exercising. Not only would it help me to lose weight but it would help to keep my cholesterol and blood sugar in a healthy range as well. So start exercising I did. I got up every morning faithfully and walked at a good pace for at least a mile, eventually increasing it to about a mile and a half every day. I tried to vary my route so that I would not get bored with it. I made sure to include as much uphill incline as I could with minimal decline to help increase my cardio-vascular capacity. I kept this up for about 2 months, and by the end of September mostly by exercising alone I was already acheiving a few things.

For one, I felt better. I had more energy and I was (as Steve puts it) spunkier. Second, I had lost 8 pounds simply by exercising and without any purposeful change in my diet. Third, I noticed that I was craving less carb-based snacks like cookies and brownies and cakes and such things. Not that I didn't enjoy them, but I was able to stop munching on them a lot faster than I had before.

And fourth, the walks I was taking had also taken to starting to help me spiritually which was something I wasn't expecting. I found myself talking to God on my walks and beginning to really feel His presence. When the sun was warm or there was a cool breeze, it only made that feeling stronger. Not that I would call a suburban neighborhood in Salem, New Hampshire "nature", but by being outside I was taking the time to see all of the things that He created around me. I started to notice small things like how certain plants and trees looked at different times of the morning and at different angles of light. I took to observing some of the animals I saw and watching their behavior (this helped me to realize that cats are weird). I saw fellow walkers or joggers who would smile and wave, even on the first day I was out walking. I felt a spring in my step with each turn and as each morning walk passed I felt God's presence more and more. I never felt lonely - something I had felt in the past when I had tried exercising - even though I was walking solo.

October hit and I started to miss a few walks due to a death in the family and a vacation to Tennessee. When things were back to normal, it was too dark and eventually too cold to consider walking outside. I weighed a few options and decided to join Planet Fitness, an inexpensive but good gym close to our apartment. I started to go a few days a week, and I met with the personal trainer (it comes with the membership). We discussed how it's important to build muscle and we formed a weight training program for me. I continued to build up my cardio for a bit, praying at night that what had before been inevitable would not happen again.

But it did. I got bored and lonely at the gym. I tried to figure out why and couldn't, so I tried to think harder. Then I realized - I didn't feel God's presence at the gym the way I had felt Him there when I was outside walking in the fresh air. Intelligently, I know that God is everywhere, God is in our hearts - but the gym made me feel alone and surrounded by people who were in their own bubbles of exerciseness. People's faces on the ellipticals, treadmills, bikes, and weights rarely ever look like they're enjoying themselves. How am I supposed to find enjoyment in such a sea of blah?

When I realized that this was why I was feeling so disconnected from fitness when I was at the gym, I didn't know what else to do so I got on the scale. No movement up or down, the same 8 pounds was missing from the starting point. No discouragement, but yet almost a silent encouragement. It was like He had said "I haven't given it back to you yet even though you ate like garbage over Christmas and certainly didn't watch what you were eating at Disney. Did you SEE those French pastries you ingested? Now, don't be discouraged. Get back to the gym." I prayed for the motivation to go, and a week later I got back on the scale. Another pound was gone... no, I don't know how that happened. Maybe the exercise of walking around Disney gave my metabolism a quick boost, but there that pound was, gone. I took this as His encouragement and found a bit more resolve.

I went last night for the first time since the beginning of January, and before that I hadn't been since right after Thanksgiving. I changed, popped on my iPod and searched through the list for Hour 1 of "Learning the Bible in 24 Hours". Then I got on the elliptical, zoned out, and just listened to the speaker come through the headphones.

I HATE the elliptical, but appreciate the full workout it offers. I have never made it past 7 minutes before I feel like I'm going to fall over - until last night. I zoned out and I listened to the speaker talk about His word. I made it to 10 minutes before I realized my legs were burning pretty badly. Then I hopped off and went over to the treadmill for 25 minutes of powerwalking. For the first time, and I don't know if it was my listening selection or what, I felt God was with me at the gym last night. This morning I got on the scale again... and another half pound disappeared. Encouragement.

I have come to realize that part of trying to get fit and being healthier is accepting that our body is a gift from God, and that we are maintaining it for Him. Exercise, while for our own health, is also a way to worship Him and thank Him for giving us life. There's a verse I found before that speaks to this, but I can't think of what it is at the moment. Coming to these realizations over the last few days has helped me to start to find the motivation to get to the gym and exercise on a more regular basis; I know that no matter how down or discouraged I get I still have Him there to encourage and guide me.

I only hope that I can keep this at the front of my mind as I proceed with my weight training and cardio workouts in the coming weeks, months, and years.


Laura :) said...

It is amazing what time outside in God's creation can do to the soul. I completely understand what you mean! I got a little twinge in my heart and a smile on my face when I read your entry. :) When I am outside exercising I feel like I things are how they should be. We were meant to be out enjoying God's creation- not be stuck inside (we made the houses- God didn't!). Although.... we would freeze to death without them haha. Anyway, may God bless you as you continue seeking him !

Kstar said...

Isn't awesome how people feel God in different ways! Such a great feeling :-)