“O how I love Your law!
It is my meditation all the day.
Your commandments make me wiser than my enemies,
For they are ever mine.
I have more insight than all my teachers,
For Your testimonies are my meditation.
I understand more than the aged,
Because I have observed Your precepts.
I have restrained my feet from every evil way,
That I may keep Your word.
I have not turned aside from Your ordinances,
For You Yourself have taught me.
How sweet are Your words to my taste!
Yes, sweeter than honey to my mouth!
From Your precepts I get understanding;
Therefore I hate every false way.”
OK–so where were we when I left off …. oh yeah, changing my thought patterns and gaining a new depth of relationship with my GOD. Good place to start — renewing my mind, as Paul talks about in Romans 12, with thoughts that belong to God instead of apathy, fear, unthinking habit, convenient dysfunction and comfort.
When it became obvious to other people that I was losing weight with my newfound discipline in healthy eating and exercise, I would get a lot of wishful thinkers opining about how they should do that too, but joking about their own excuses. They would say familiar sounding things like, “I know I should exercise more BUT (always the big BUT) I always change my mind when I wake up and think about the effort.” or “You’re way more disciplined than me. I tried X plan for a while, but I just couldn’t stick to it.” or “I just can’t seem to find a plan that works for me. There’s so many. How do I know which one is the right one?”
Yes, I recognize the sentiments and completely understand, because in my flesh I was still there. I didn’t want to. I didn’t want to set the clock back even further so I could get in a workout before the rest of my day started. I liked my sleep. I didn’t want to have to get up and GO somewhere to exercise. I knew I wouldn’t do it at all if it took a great effort to get there before I could get started. It had to be something easy that I could just get up and do from home or it just wasn’t going to happen. The thing is I didn’t really have the discipline either — it wasn’t me keeping me going, it was totally God. And it wasn’t like one day I woke up and a lifetime of antipathy for physical exertion just suddenly went away. It most certainly did not.
Rabbit trail on the question of “the right plan”: This is not rocket science. If you are in the place where dithering around about which plan to use, listen carefully. There are a plethora of diet and exercise plans out there and nearly every single one will have experts touting it as the “surefire thing,” the “only” healthy way to eat and lose weight, the “only” one scientifically formulated for success and health. All the “expert” advice — both the professional kind and the “Friends and Family Plan” kind (and sometimes even complete strangers at the store) will just sideline your best intentions and drive you insane if you listen to every single “Utterance from On High,” because they all contradict each other, leaving regular people like us in bewilderment and confusion with a side order of guilt in some cases when overzealous well-meaning people try to convince you that not following their plan or that following another plan is a guarantee of death, doom and destruction.
OK — maybe I exaggerate – a bit – but some people are just self-righteously pushy about their way and get all huffy and offended if you don’t jump on their bandwagon of choice. The secret is to nod, smile politely and say, “Thanks for sharing.” Then go home and make your own decision about what works for you and just stick with it. Because the bottom line is that any sensible eating and exercise plan will work if you stick to it long enough. But, the only plan that is going to work for you is the one you will actually DO and incorporate as a long-term lifestyle and way of thinking; and not a temporary quick fix with an expiration date at which you can let your guard down and go back to “business as usual.” “Usual” is what got you to where you don’t want to be. Why would you ever want to go back? I didn’t – I still don’t!
When God pointed this out to me, again with Lysa TerKeurst’s sage words, it was like a lightbulb moment. I came to realize that I could never go back and didn’t want to go back to the apathetic thinking patterns that led me to many places I didn’t want to be. I was in this for life and that’s how it had to be if I was really going to turn all my broken things around. I will talk more later about what worked for me but by no means is it the magic answer for everyone. YOU DECIDE the healthy plan that will work for you and do it, and then do it again, and then do it again and again and again until it becomes an ingrained habit you don’t even have to think about. It really is that simple. Don’t make it harder than it has to be.
However, God and I did ALOT of talking during this time — more than any previous time in my life; and what He reminded me was this wasn’t about whether I felt like it or not. I heard or read somewhere where someone was telling how church attendance worked when they were a kid. It was get up Sunday morning. Mom and Dad said we are going so we’re going — every week, no questions asked. It was just a habit, a routine. You just did it and it didn’t matter how you felt about it. It was not optional. It was just what they did as a family. I could totally relate. That’s pretty much how it worked in my family too. Not to say it was only habit with no relationship to God, but the expectation that no one ever questioned was Sunday is church day. No surprises, no whining. Be ready, expect it, just do it.
So it’s not that I was so disciplined as that God gave me a new perspective on how to think about doing something I didn’t want to do. (Yes, the analogy is imperfect because it actually never occurred to me to object or resist going to church. I didn’t dislike it the way I disliked physical exercise.) I realized that I needed to apply the same principle to my newly developing exercise routine. It wasn’t a matter of whether I wanted to. That wasn’t even the question to be asking because – duh – I already knew that if I approached it from that perspective, the answer would most assuredly and resoundingly be a big fat “NO WAY!” every time.
So I couldn’t wake up and ask myself if I felt like exercising and give myself the opportunity to weasel out of it and empower my avoidance excuses. Instead, I had to make the conscious choice – in advance – that just like going to church, getting up in the morning and exercising was not an option or a decision to be made. It was just what I did. Don’t sit around and think about it. JUST DO IT! as the NIKE commercials say. It was not some magical formula or supercharged discipline or enthusiasm. It was simply making the decision that I was going to obey His lead and get off my tush no matter how I felt. (with a few exceptions for real honest to goodness sick days.)
So that was transformation #1 — just learning the obedience mindset and sloughing off the excuses and emotions that held me captive and kept me from fully participating in what God was calling me to do.
Around the same time my friend Jeni introduced me to Lysa TerKeurst’s Made to Crave. I read through it and then read the adult AND young women’s versions with my then pre-teen daughter. One thing that struck me was one of her signature lines, “Exchange whispers with God before shouts with the world.” I had fallen out of the habit of daily devotions and had this niggling guilt that I should start doing it again. I knew it would bless my life. I didn’t really make excuses. I just didn’t think about it much until I read that and realized this whole fitness thing was not only about getting physically fit but also spiritually fit.
My daughter and I covered the back of just about every door in our tiny house with butcher paper and started recording scripture verses that spoke to us – one a day each. And I just made an executive decision to tell my flesh that wanted to sleep another hour or so, that we were getting our lazy behinds up and reading the Bible, praying and journaling first thing in the morning and then immediately doing the exercise of the day. No questions, no whining, no excuses, JUST DO IT! After all, this is about obedience and every mom knows that it doesn’t cut it for a kid to say, when told to clean her room, for instance, “I’ll do it when I feel like it.” Things will not end well for the child who says that to a parent. So why would I think I could do that to God? Crazy talk, that is! But, little insights like that just kept falling into place and keeping me on track as I strengthened my connection with God and cleared up the static of years of Christian routine, apathy, excuses and justifications.
At first I just walked. It was something I could do without a whole lot of preparation; that and my home PT stretches for my knee as a warm up. In the beginning, I would just walk around a nearby park for about 10 to 15 minutes and call it good. But little by little as I got bored with the same old, same old everyday and realized that my 15 minute walking route was now only taking me 5 minutes and not providing the challenge necessary to keep up the progress I was making, I started finding ways to change it up taking different, longer routes, sometimes biking instead.
But as summer was winding down and I started to realize that I wouldn’t want to be outside when Oregon’s rainy season hit, I wondered what else I could do so I wouldn’t lose the progress I was making. I can’t say I suddenly loved exercise but it was getting to be a habit that was producing progress; and the progress motivated me to keep going. I was not doing it to impress anyone else. I didn’t really even mention it to anyone else or seek their approval and approbation. This was just for me to be healthier and to be fit for whatever God had planned for my future, not to impress anyone or validate my personhood. As I said in part one, I was really OK with me. But God had told me to do this and I promised to obey so I needed a way to keep my promise indoors when it was too rainy to go out which is basically October through May-June sometimes. Too long to just let it slide for a short time.
Not being a natural lover of all things physical I did not (and truthfully still do not) like fitness videos. This goes beyond just the normal aversion to exercise excuses. “Not like” is probably too weak of an expression for the loathing I have for the perky, bouncy, overenthusiastic, pushy, “we’re here to PUMP — you UP!” style of most fitness video models and instructors. They try too hard to convince me that I really LOVE sweating and exercising….when I DON’T! I may have gotten to the point where I didn’t mind it as much when I could do it on my terms without competing or comparing myself to anyone else, but fitness fanatic I was not, am not and never will be!
I would actually think, “Sheesh, if I ever wake up and my first thought is, ‘I know what sounds like tons of fun right now – a WORKOUT!!’, I will know for sure and certain that God has given me a complete brain and personality transplant. That is just so NOT me! I am here. I am willing to do it. But stop trying so hard to make me love something that I clearly do not love. I do not have to love it. I just have to do it. And I need all my energy to just do it. I don’t have any left for drumming up fake enthusiasm for it;and you are draining my energy and killing my motivation with all your annoying sugar syrup voiced power hype. Just EEEWWWW! You just need to take it down about 170 notches!” Not to mention they never play music that I actually like or find inspiring or motivating, some have too much distraction going on on the set with gimmicks and flashing lights; not to mention even the so-called low-impact videos seemed way to perky and fast moving for my knee to handle.
I tried looking around on YouTube for something – anything I could do in my living room that did make me gag. But I watched about 30 seconds of dozens of fitness videos that only confirmed my worst fears — that normal people doing normal exercise for regular people without all the overly dramatized pep did not appear to exist. Until one glorious day I came across Fitness Blender (FB). Daniel and Kelli’s YouTube channel and website were a Godsend! Simple background, no distractions, no music (so I could choose my own!) and a no-frills, no pep voice over just telling what exercises to do and how with hundreds of videos to choose from to change it up and keep it interesting….and it was all free and professionally done by two eminently sensible and personable people who just want to help people who don’t have all sorts of fancy equipment or gym memberships.
(Rabbit trail: I would never do it if I had to go through a whole rigmarole to get dressed and drive somewhere before I could exercise; then shower, change into clean street clothes and drive home again. Had to be simple — roll out of bed, just do it. Some people tell me they have an easier time doing it at a gym and that’s fine for them. It’s just not me even if I could afford a gym membership. So do what works for you. But don’t let the lack of memberships and equipment be an excuse — I know that one! — There is always a way, regardless of limitations, if you are really committed to doing it, no matter what.)
So with that in place, I could walk, bike or do low impact FB workouts. I had no more excuses. I also started using the My Fitness Pal website to log what I ate and keep myself accountable for my calories, sodium, cholesterol and fiber intake which was very helpful to me. I didn’t follow a specific program. I just ate healthy, in sensible portions and recorded it so I could see where I could make improvements. It really was a lifestyle change and not jump on a program bandwagon that required me to buy special food, count points or do “cleanses.” As a former boss of mine pointed out, any of those “program” diets are based on a company which is in it for the money, not your long-term health. No matter what they say, if the company suddenly decides the program is not making enough profit, they could eliminate it or even go out of business entirely. So if my entire diet was based on their program which required their food….I’d be up a creek without a paddle. But just food is never going to disappear entirely. If I depend on food I make myself (and I like to cook and cooked a lot from scratch), I will be able to continue my eating plan indefinitely. That’s what worked for me.
Yes, I saw dramatic results and got to the point where I had to get an entirely new wardrobe because I was down to something like one pair of pants and a skirt that would even stay up; and a few shirts that weren’t hanging on me like a burlap sack. But that wasn’t even the best part. The best part was an ever increasing sweetness of the constant communion with God for really the first time ever, even though I can’t say there has ever been a point where I didn’t believe in Him and consider myself a Christian — even when my walk was, well, shall we say less than obedient in many ways. The physical discipline of training myself to take care of my body was the seed that reaped huge spiritual insights and transformed my relationship with God into something more dynamic and alive than I had ever known before. So though the physical still wasn’t my absolute favorite activity ever, the benefits were more than worth it and I actually came to a point that I would actually miss it when I didn’t do it for one reason or another for a day or two. It gave me a new perspective on God’s heart for me and the blessings of obedience, discipline and perseverance. It wasn’t about what I wanted. It was about whether I loved Him enough to trust what He asked me to do and just do it — for Him — even when I didn’t really feel like it or understand the whys. He is definitely worth it!
I did have another bad habit though. Most of us probably know the feeling of being on the spot and only figuring out what I should have said or done later. Yeah — let’s just say I had raised this to an art form. I would spend hours sometimes, even if it was a self-dialogue running in the back of my head multitasking with whatever else I had to do that day, constructing elaborate imaginary conversations with people about what I should have said or how the conversation should have gone. Or worrying about how I could explain something to someone else — a scripture passage, a personal choice. I would recreate the same conversations over and over in my head almost constantly, practicing what to say, just in case I ever needed to justify or explain myself on said topic to anyone; or how I would do it differently if such and such a situation ever came up again.
I was living more in the land of what ifs, regrets, fears and trying to figure out how to teach any given set of ideas to someone else rather than applying it to myself or paying attention to what was happening in the present because I was constantly beset with consternation over how I could have said something or explained something better or worrying about answering questions that no one ever actually asked me. So it really was a futile waste of time that had me trapped on a hamster wheel, never moving past the past to discover the beauty of the future God wanted to give me.
Part of it was undoubtedly the teacher mindset that always has to figure out how to explain concepts to someone else. So I would always frame things in terms of “you.” Telling someone else what they should do or know or learn but not effectively stopping to hear the message for myself. God convicted me on this during this whole time period and basically told me it was time to move on so these imaginary internal monologues had to stop. I had to “take every thought captive to the obedience of Christ” as it says in 2 Corinthians 10.
I am a writer and an academic so my devotional journals could take up pages and pages of “You need to stop ____. God doesn’t expect you to _____. He wants you to _____.” Even if those things were true, it wasn’t about what He wanted you to do. I am not responsible for your relationship with God, other than to set a good example and shine His light so you can see the way. But I can’t do that if I am always focused on teaching you what He expects before I let it truly touch my own heart. So framing it in the second or third person was just a way of unconsciously putting a barrier between Truth and my own heart. It created a mental distance that comes when I have too much “knowledge” and not enough real understanding and personal application. So I went back in my latest journal and started crossing out the yous and yours, even the wes and ours (because even in the plural first person, I was just one of a group and I could hide in the back and tell myself that this was more for them than me, even though I was part of the group. It didn’t put me in the spotlight and make it personal — still too much distance) and replacing them with I, my and mine. New devotions were strictly written in the first person and it was amazing how this suddenly brought Truths home to roost that I had never thought about in conjunction with me.
Suddenly the gospel was very, very personal and relevant in a real way that it always had been but I had missed being wrapped up in the academics of it all, even if I had failed to see it that way. I had to make a conscious decision moment by moment and day by day to not let my mind rest on hypotheticals and imaginaries and be fully present with God in the now and actually hear what He was saying to me at this exact moment and train my mind to dwell — as in take up residence, set down roots and live there — on all things honorable, right, pure, lovely, of good repute, excellent or worthy of praise. (Philippians 4:8)
I had to redirect its attention on purpose whenever it tried to escape to old habits that just distracted me and held me in a place of apathy and inaction where I was effectively impotent for God, doing neither harm nor good….which of course is a strategy of the enemy. While I was so busy not caring and calling it confidence, I didn’t realize that Satan was effectively sneaking in through chinks and cracks in my armor the back way and disarming me without me even knowing what was happening. But God opened my eyes and transformed my thinking yet again — and after a while, I didn’t have to concentrate so hard to keep my mind in the now and stop the imaginary world of doubt and shame and fear from taking over my thoughts again.
I had to commit to making it happen through discipline and do my part, but God is the one who really made it happen. He freed me from chains I didn’t even realize were entangling me all along. He renewed and transformed my mind and my thinking about Him and about really listening and letting the listening spur me to action; and not allowing worries about inadequacy, lack of resources or other people’s opinions paralyze me from doing the very things He asks me to do–whether I feel like it or not, because this is about Him. It’s always about Him and His glory and how He wants to bless my life with oodles of spiritual goodness if only I will trust and obey that He is doing me good regardless of what my circumstances look like. He was preparing me, is still preparing me for greater spiritual things through the discipline of physical and spiritual workouts. So far it’s been an amazing journey with Him by my side, guiding me every step of the way and I don’t want to miss a moment of where He is going with the rest of my story by sliding back into the comfortable, but unhealthy patterns of past thinking. I am all in for Him, and I want to keep it that way.
Though all the people walk in the name of their gods, as for [me and my house] we will walk in the Name of the Lord our God forever and ever. Micah 4:5
Be strong and courageous for the LORD your GOD will be with you wherever you go. Joshua 1:9
I am not ashamed for I KNOW in Whom I have believed and am convinced that He is able to guard that which I have entrusted to Him until that day. 2 Timothy 1:12