When you're managing more than $25 million of marketing budgets before you're 25 years old, the adrenaline rush that accompanies every negotiation you win hooks you. I've spent 15-hour workdays climbing the corporate ladders of two of Canada's largest advertising agencies. Over the years, I've participated in numerous weight-loss programs, and I've invested at least $10,000 in dime-store romances, Nora Roberts' trilogies, and the latest must-have, on-trend books in my quest for an all-or-nothing life. Competition and consumerism have driven me.
There's a pace to this life I was leading, an edge, and I had the gnawing sense I'd ridden that edge to its limit. How can the fruit of the Spirit grow in a heart focused almost entirely on competition and consumption? I wondered.
The antidote for wanting it all
Tired in body and spirit, hungry for energy, ready to get off the quick-fix weight loss roller coaster, I signed up for an online boot camp—a fast-paced exercise regimen I follow on my computer. For 30 minutes, five to six days a week, I move, sweat, roar, and shout, "Yes!" at my computer screen. And during those 30 minutes, my coaches offer a way to live that serves up an attitude of gratitude. It turns out getting off that all-or-nothing ledge is simple. But it's not easy.
First of all, I've had to refuse and refute the enemy's lies. "Tell your negative voice to zip it," says Coach Jonathan as I move into his first two-minute interval. "I don't want to hear her garbage like 'You can't do it. You have 100 pounds to lose. You'll never make it.' Your negative voice doesn't belong here." He, along with the other coaches, absolutely refuses to give that negative voice any credence or authority. As sweat drips and I wonder if I'll make it through the last two sets, I also wonder why I've bought into almost everything that negative voice has served up.
"Ditch the rear-view mirror," Jonathan says one day. Trying to breathe while crunching my abs, I don't fully grasp what he's saying at that moment. It takes two weeks of sweat, endorphins, and some tears before I own up to the fact that I have a rear-view mirror. You have one too. Mine has always shown me the broken promises, and the why-did-I/how-could-I/shame-on-you lies that litter the garden in which God has planted me.
I'd forgotten that rear-view mirrors can only show so much. They reflect a miniscule perspective on where and what I've come from. And they've never shown me who I am or where I'm going. My rear-view mirror isn't God's Word: "You didn't choose me. I chose you. I appointed you to go and produce lasting fruit . . ." (John 15:16).
On the day I threw out my rear-view mirror, I saw, for the first time, how much "hurry up and win" had become the soil in which I'd taken root. The Spirit's fruit cannot grow in the soil of idolatry, hostility, quarreling, jealousy, or envy (Galatians 5:20–21). The greedy violence and striving of those words take my breath away. Me . . . idolatrous, hostile, quarrelsome, jealous, full of envy, striving? Well, yes. I had forgotten that I hadn't chosen God; that God had chosen me.
But do I really believe that I am chosen? Coach Erik gulps from his water bottle and reminds me that getting off that all-or-nothing ledge comes down to this: Trust. "Do you believe you are loved?" he asks as he dances and invites me to move in celebration and roar at the end of each five-minute interval.
As I roar, I'm choosing to viscerally let go of the guilt and shame that's built up over the past 20 years. I've avoided looking at myself in mirrors. I have eaten my feelings versus acknowledging them, and I have profoundly distrusted my body. I know I've lived without paying attention to, far less been thankful for, the miracles God has already wrought in my life—health, despite the weight; a career doing what I was called to do; a steady income; the bedrock support of my husband, friends, and family.
Light-hearted, I fling my arms wide open, and I roar in my willingness to believe that God has given me a spirit of power, love, and self-discipline (2 Timothy 1:7). I roar in my readiness to believe that I am enough, though unfinished (Ephesians 2:10).
"You belong!" Coach Stephanie focuses a full workout on unpacking that statement. My tears welled up, making it hard to see her upper cuts and kicks onscreen. With every kick, I banish for good the memories of schoolyard taunts about my flabby legs. With every upper cut, I punch out my old labels—the ones I'd made myself, laminated and stuck on my shirt, and the ones my parents, cousins, sister, and school mates had given me: fatso, loner, grumps, neurotic, snob, outsider, four-eyes (a reference to the bottle-thick lenses in my eyeglasses). And finally, I can hear, in Stephanie's voice, a divine permission to listen and to own, at the core of my being, the labels in which my creator—God—has wrapped me: steward, overcomer, athlete, believer, peacemaker, lover, daughter, beloved, friend, leader, fighter, worshiper, servant.
With every workout, my coaches ask me to believe that just showing up to spend 30 sweaty, mood- and energy-lifting minutes with them means I've chosen to destroy one more old label and burn one more chapter of my all-or-nothing story.
"I know it's hard, but fight anyway. I'm hurting too," cries Jonathan as we move our feet in the classic "foot-on-fire" dance.
My muscles burn. I dig down, breathe deep, and do 30 more seconds before switching to some high steps instead. This uprooting of all-or-nothing living hurts. I feel naked. My coaches' invitation to celebrate the wins, however small, of each day and to give thanks for any movement I am able to make strips away my pretentiousness and forces me to be real for once. With love, they dare me to show up, not just to work out, but to plant myself deeper in that vast unsearchable love (John 3:16).
God wants me to plant my roots deep into him so that he can grow the Spirit's lasting fruit in my life—for all to see.
Twelve pounds and almost as many inches down, I've decided to start my second boot camp. I'll take this more-of-God/less–of-me life any day.
Renee James is the communications director for Canadian Baptist Women of Ontario and Quebec, a women's mission organization. She's a regular contributor to Today's Christian Woman and blogs on change at reneejames.org.
Consumed by Competition
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