I am not an exercise guru, but I did marry one. My husband is such a natural at sports that he quickly surpassed me in the two activities I taught him: volleyball and surfing. Suffice it to say, I’ve eaten my share of pie, both humble and coconut cream, that has added to a mounting resentment toward exercise.
While working up a sweat can be fun, I readily agree, the time and energy required for fitness seemed to evaporate after I moved overseas and started having babies. The pressures of crosscultural living piled onto the multitasking talents of motherhood knocked me flat whenever there was room to choose a pastime. Hm, exercise or nap? No brainer.
And there were days when I could barely crawl to my bed at night, swallowing hard tears of the day’s endless grovel before expectations, language, homemaking, parenting, writing, relationships, and surviving in unfamiliarity. Could I really wake up and do it again?
My husband’s suggestions would be consistent: find a social outlet and exercise, the first to which I nodded and the second I scowled. In my blur of borderline burnout, I saw judgement and insensitivity. Can’t you see I’m too tired to jump around with a workout video? But truly, in me he saw weariness of body and soul and wanted to energize both.
So it began. I tried several things: running outside after putting the kids to bed at night, DVDs during naptime, stretching with toddlers hanging off my shoulders, taking more walks with the kids strapped on or held tight. Anything to up that heartbeat, out that stress, and in that tummy was worth a try.
But as the weeks wore on, my motivation to exercise began to wane (Why am I doing this?), mainly because my focus had switched from health to image, which birthed a new problem. What began as therapy for stress morphed into an obsession to look fantastic, so I began to question whether the efforts were worth it when little changed in the mirror. Then one day as I mourned my stretch marks and stubborn baby weight, I muttered this phrase with disdain: “This is my body.”
This is my body.
It echoed in my head like the reverberating call of a giant church bell. Over and over he said it before. And he said it again to me. This is my body which is given for you.
And I closed my eyes, tearing my self-centered eyes away from physical beauty and burnout to rest them instead on the sacrifice of Jesus. How did he use his body? There was the ultimate gift of his body at the cross, but before that, he also lived for 33 years in the flesh. He was a man, fully human and subject to stress and overeating and fatigue. Yet never did his body hinder him from his Father’s work. He rested, like when he slept aboard the fishing boat tossed in the storm. He labored, like when he and his disciples walked for days to minister in different cities. He ate, like when he was invited to dine with the tax collectors and sinners. He did all these things, never held back by an uncooperative body.
Furthermore, His body wasn’t a distraction. He wasn’t concerned about its appearance, only its usefulness. Obviously, he must’ve kept in good shape to do all that he did in his three years of ministry, but he also didn’t obsess over fitness because he had the right focus on doing his Father’s business.
And so sitting there, my clenched fists opened as conviction covered my dissatisfaction.
When I do not prioritize my physical health, my body can hinder me from doing God’s work. Without sleep, I run on adrenaline and grumpy spurts of droopyeyed fluster. Without exercise, I ache and drag through even the measliest of tasks. Without good food, my mood twitches and flares along with the inevitable indigestion. What’s worse is that this doesn’t only affect me. It affects everyone around me, especially my family.
But pursuing good health also has its dangers when I do it selfishly; it can be a distraction from what truly matters. Do I see my goals as a means to serving God more fully or as a way to look and feel more attractive?
I am still no exercise guru, but I have a new appreciation for sweat. Even if it doesn’t rewind my years to prepregnancy shape, the efforts give immediate energy and stress relief. And these directly affect how I treat my children, how well I take care of my responsibilities, and how I respond to interruptions to normalcy (which seem to happen a lot).
“This is my body.” I had once said it in underbreath anger. Now, I whisper it to remind myself of why I must take care of this temple. I want to follow Jesus’ example in how he disciplined himself to be obedient, available, and useful to his Father’s will. While eating well, sleeping enough, and exercising effectively can bolster us from burnout, it can also more importantly remove the distraction our bodies can be to the day to day work of the Kingdom.
Do you also struggle with a Christ-centered perspective of exercise? How can we pursue health and balance without adding more to our already bulging routines? And how can physical exercise counteract the stresses of overseas life?
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