Five o’clock in the morning comes early for anyone. But for Sally, a mother of three, it sometimes feels like a two-by-four has been placed on her forehead, pushing her back down into her soft feather pillow. Yet when the alarm rings, resisting the urge to stay in bed, she slowly rolls over, placing one foot on the floor and then another, struggling to find her workout clothes in the dark. She knows that if she doesn’t do it now it will never get done. So Sally heads to the living room, eyes half-shut, and begins her routine: read the Word, pray, do a 30-minute workout.
Sally has set a new goal for herself: to work out every day. Week one went by and was smooth sailing. Week two came and went, and she finally began to feel like she had a solid routine. But by week three, the scale got the best of her. Sally had bought into the world’s promise of quick fixes and ideal beauty. She started to feel discouraged because, though her energy and stamina were increasing, her weight had only slightly changed. After all that work! Frustrated and discouraged, Sally began to think of alternatives.
She thought about a popular new diet she heard about from a friend that guaranteed a loss of 10 pounds in one week. She tried it and lost some weight (but not quite the promised 10 pounds). Eventually, though, her enthusiasm for the diet’s restrictions waned. Once off the diet, Sally quickly gained all the weight back.
Frustrated once again, Sally decided to take a different approach. She went to a trusted friend for help.
“Are you doing this to be healthy or because you want to be skinny?” her friend asked.
Sally knew that she had to answer honestly.
“I want to be skinny,” Sally replied.
Her friend gently said, “Perhaps that’s the problem. If you go about this with a desire to be healthy and glorify the Lord with your body, you will be satisfied. Not necessarily satisfied in yourself or how you look, but satisfied in God.”
Find Your Purpose
Many of us can relate to Sally’s story. Magazine covers give us a picture of the ideal woman that can only truly be achieved through Photoshop. And then there’s all of the quick fix “solutions” that are found in bookstores and on the Internet. Television and movies proclaim that beauty is defined by our outward appearance. So where do we start?
If we know it’s not all about pursuing a cultural “ideal” that God didn’t create us for, we need to find a deeper motivation for pursuing exercise. So what did God create us for? God created us for worship—for himself. We see just a glimpse of this in Psalm 100:3: “Acknowledge that the LORD is God! He made us, and we are his. We are his people, the sheep of his pasture.” We are his! We are God’s creation (Ephesians 2:10). Each intricately designed cell, every single strand of hair, everything—designed by God (Matthew 10:30) and made for his glory (Isaiah 43:7).
Understanding why we were made helps us fight the temptation to compare ourselves with the brand of beauty sold to us in the world. It also helps us fight the temptation to idolize exercise and beauty. We know from experience that beauty is fleeting. We’re reminded daily that we’re growing old. Scripture provides us wisdom for this heart-fight: “Charm is deceptive, and beauty does not last; but a woman who fears the LORD will be greatly praised” (Proverbs 31:30).
Proverbs 31:30 makes it clear that exercise does not compare to the inward beauty of godliness, specifically the fear of the Lord. I believe it’s here—with fear of the Lord—that we ought to begin an exercise plan. We enter in knowing that our beauty is fading and that our pursuit is ultimately about God’s glory, not our own. We pursue exercise not for selfish gain, but as a means of serving others and serving the Lord. With increased energy and strength, we can have increased productivity for the Lord. If we pursue exercise with a mindset of honoring God and fearing him, we will be satisfied not in our looks or how we feel, but in better understanding that our bodies are a means of giving worship and glory to God.
Reap the Benefits
The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention suggests that adults get 2 hours and 30 minutes of moderate-intensity aerobic activity per week as well as muscle-strengthening activities two times per week. The CDC also provides an alternate set of guidelines: 1 hour and 15 minutes of vigorous-intensity aerobic activity (like running) along with muscle-strengthening exercises at least two days per week. So when we think about the amount of hours within a week (168 to be exact), the recommended amount of exercise from the CDC really isn’t that much time. A little really does go a long way!
Paul’s words to Timothy remind us that “Physical training is good, but training for godliness is much better, promising benefits in this life and in the life to come” (1 Timothy 4:8). There is a benefit or value to exercise. And though godliness or training in righteousness is of much greater value, the inherent benefits of exercise aren’t diminished. So that little bit of exercise per week you try to eek out? It matters.
When we’re centered in honoring God, we can pursue fitness with a clear conscience and reap the benefits of it. So what are these benefits? At the risk of sounding cliché, the benefits of exercise are almost too many to name. Some basic benefits are greater strength, endurance, and stamina; increased flexibility; better sleep; increased bone density; and for many, healthy weight maintenance. As a mother of two young children, I have personally experienced the benefits of exercise primarily in the energy and stamina it gives me for the various daily tasks God has assigned me.
Most of us know exercise in beneficial. In fact, for many of us busy moms or full-time employees, the problem isn’t a desire for exercise—it’s finding the time and staying motivated to actually do it. Here are some tips I’ve shared with others during my years as a fitness instructor:
1. Schedule: Exercise, like everything else, must be a part of your routine. We know that it is of some value, so the goal would not be to schedule it in lieu of time with God, but instead to find a time of day that works well but won’t squeeze out other important activities. This may mean squeezing in a brisk walk in during the morning, popping in an exercise DVD, or taking a family walk around a park after dinner. If it’s in your budget, you could hire a personal trainer and schedule time with her or you could purchase a gym membership and carve out regular times to go. The key is finding a consistent and convenient time to do your workout every day.
2. Do: Again, exercise is only of some value. It is not infinitely valuable. But if you desire to be healthy, you must do what’s in your schedule. Don’t schedule it and then consistently miss it or skip. Do it. A great way to stick with it is to recruit a workout buddy. Find a friend who will keep you accountable to do your scheduled workout, schedule workouts you’ll do together with a friend, or invite your spouse to encourage you. Whatever the method, the only way for exercise to be effective is if you do it.
3. Be Realistic: If you’ve never walked briskly around a track, now may not be the time to schedule two marathons! Though big goals are exciting, failure to reach them isn’t. So think about your goals incrementally and realistically. One of the most frustrating obstacles for beginners is the patience to persevere while waiting to feel and see the results. Head off this kind of discouragement by easing into your routine. Workout plans like the Couch-to-5K running plan are wonderful starting places because they give you realistic and flexible goals to reach each week. Don’t despise the days of small beginnings.
Pursue Fitness Loosely
We can set goals and go after them with determination and passion. But as we pursue fitness as a lifestyle, we must always be cautious to not grasp that goal too tightly. Instead, we pursue it loosely. The culture’s messages about fitness are a lie. A “perfect body” is not our goal. Instead we choose to remember: the only thing that will ever truly satisfy isn’t a “thing” at all; it’s a person—Jesus.