Wednesday, March 21, 2012

Failure

I have read back over my goals for 2012 to remind myself of what I intend to do to make 2012 my healthiest year ever. For the most part, as the quarter pole of 2012 nears, I feel I've done an acceptable job. Except for one thing. There was one item on my "mental health" goal list that I'd forgotten all about it. As I read it, it screamed one word to me: "FAILURE!" (Not "good effort" or "nice try" or "needs improvement". Those words would have painted a too-rosy picture of my actual behavior.)

What have I failed at? Let me quote myself: "To take one day off per week and do things I find refreshing on that day." FAILURE!

So, here we go. "Hello. My name is Dave and I'm a workaholic." I exhibit all the classic signs of an addiction to work. I think about work issues almost all the time. I have a hard time ending my work day, even with my self-imposed "no work after 10 pm" rule. I find myself, all too often, being emotionally detached when talking to family and friends because work issues are on my mind. And I can't take a day off. Check that. I won't take a day off. Even when commanded by God to do so. (I had a hard time typing that...)

God hates laziness. Time is short and the stakes are high. When people are unwilling to routinely make sacrifices and put forth their best efforts to become the kind of people God wants them to be and produce the fruit that God wants them to produce it is unloving, irresponsible and self-centered. This is true, and I can preach it all day long. But as for the proverbial ditch on the other side of the road...

God hates workaholism. People are finite and their energies are limited. When people are unwilling to let go of their work and take time to refresh themselves, when they believe that the secret to success is more dependent on their effort than God's blessing, then they are proud, irresponsible and self-centered. I don't like preaching that message. Too convicting.

I'd rather burn out that rust out. God, however, finds both options unacceptable. He would probably say something like, "How about burning brightly for a long time?" (His questions always have a way of opening our hearts and bringing enlightenment all at the same time.) Taking a day off is one way we honor God with our work. It helps us to stay healthy and productive. It helps keep us from worshipping our work and helps us to keep our priorities right. Workaholics like me need to surrender to these realities and live accordingly. Please pray that I will.

Monday, March 12, 2012

The Ups and Downs on the Path to Health

I, along with my staff-mates, have committed to making 2012 our healthiest year ever. This encompasses physical health, mental health and spiritual health. Having been on this path for two and a half months, there is one thing that has really crystalized for me. The path to health in every area of personhood looks exactly alike: it is filled with ups and downs that make it impossible to judge progress by looking at single snapshot in time.

Physical health, mental health or spiritual health – it doesn’t matter; the same dynamic is present in them all. Progress and setback. On the wagon, off the wagon. Practice disciplines, miss the disciplines. Good days, bad days. If you look at any one day, or week, or cycle, you can woefully misjudge how you are doing. We get too rosy or too gloomy of a picture.

The only way to accurately assess yourself, to discern how you are actually doing, is over a longer period of time. It’s not so much whether I weigh less than last week, or do a better job at controlling my thoughts and emotions that I did yesterday or whether I have more energy for the things of God today than I did two weeks ago. Because of the up and down nature of life, I can end up thinking I’m doing way better, or way worse, that I actually am doing.

It is better to see that I weigh less this month than last month; or that I controlled my thoughts and emotions much better in a certain situation than I did in a similar situation 3 months ago; or that I am more excited about God and His work than I was last year.

Healthy practices, which lead to healthy outcomes, take time to work their magic. We must respect this reality and persevere in doing them. We cannot allow ourselves to become despondent when we hit the inevitable slump. We can’t grow weary and quit because we haven’t seen the progress we desire. We can’t make sweeping judgments based on slices in time.

I am a “work hard today, see results now” kind of guy. I am inherently impatient and I naturally find myself emotional tied to this day, this week, or this event. I am learning to be more long-term oriented when it comes to my health, and not just my leadership. The Scriptures say that righteous practices will produce healthy results “at the appropriate time”. (Galatians 6:9) The appropriate time is, it appears, never right away. It is down the road. And this requires that we persevere in doing the healthy thing. Our bodies, minds and souls will reap the rewards if we do.

Monday, February 27, 2012

Learn As You Go

I am, by nature, a strategist. I love establishing goals that matter and devising a game plan that holds the promise of accomplishing those goals. (In fact, "Strategic" is one of my top themes in the StrengthsFinders evaluation.) The challenge with my make-up is not falling in love with the strategy nor being married to the goals.

Every goal, no matter how noble, and every strategy, regardless of how well thought-out it is, needs to be amended when it collides with real life. It is the ability to know what needs amending, and when to amend, that often separates those who succeed from those who merely try hard to succeed. You have to be optimistic and tenacious, not naive and stubborn. (I think the difference between these comes down to wisdom.)

So what does this have to do with my fitness goals for 2012?

First, I am scheduled to have surgery on April 16. I am having a hip resurfacing procedure done (an alternative to a complete replacement, that promises a full return to all activity.) As I am learning about the rehab process, it is clear that my goal to run a 5K this year is simply not wise, so needs to be abandoned. (It is recommended that a returning to running after this procedure happen after a full year.) A replacement goal is to be the most faithful rehab patient ever and put myself in a position to return to all my previous recreational and athletic pursuits in 2013.

Second, as I practice my spiritual health goals I am feeling the urge to journal. What this means is that I am going to read and pray a little less and add journaling to the time I have allotted for cultivating my spiritual health. After all, the big goal is becoming more healthy spiritually, not merely reading and praying for "X" amount of time.

When goals and strategies need amending, don't look at it like failure. It's not. It's adjusting a plan to the demands of reality, which is what enables success to happen.

Sunday, February 19, 2012

How Do You Know If You're Spiritually Healthy?

How do you know if you're spiritually healthy? Good question, isn't it?

Our church staff has been discussing spiritual health. We began by posing an elementary question: "What are the indicators of spiritually healthy person?" What do you look for to assess your fitness in this most critical area of personhood? (And though it is a theologically correct answer, we needed something more specific than "being like Jesus"!)

As I've been pondering this question, I thought I'd share my thoughts. Here's my preliminary list of spiritual health indicators:

1. I have good energy for engaging in Christian service
2. I am optimistic about my life and my endeavors for God
3. I am exhibiting Christ-like qualities in my relationships, and am growing in my ability to express those qualities.
4. I have a strong desire to spend time with God (prayer, Bible reading, meditation, etc.)
5. I am emotionally moved by the things that Jesus cared about.

So, what do you think? I'd love to hear your comments and see the things you would put on this list!

Tuesday, February 14, 2012

The lifestyle I Want to Live

"You're an ideal candidate for this procedure." The words were comforting, and a little scary, too.

My first recollection of a problem was pain in my right hip during a family vacation in December of 2006. Increasing pain and decreasing mobility, in spite of my many self-diagnoses and rehab efforts, led to a doctor's visit in 2010. That led to an X-ray, which led to an MRI, which led to a real diagnosis: severe osteoarthritis of the right hip. We're talking no cartilage left, bone on bone arthritis. It was due to an abnormality in the way my hip socket formed (not due to an active, runners lifestyle!)

I've lived with it for two years since then. About a year and half ago I talked to a surgeon about it. He wanted to do a full replacement and told me my running days were over. I told him they weren't. He insisted they were, and that's when our relationship ended. You see, I'm not interested in merely getting through the rest of my life pain-free. I'm interested in a certain quality of life, and that quality involves mountain climbing and tennis and golfing with my boys and playing ball with my grandson and, yes, running. Running is therapy for me; it's time to meditate and problem-solve and strategize and dream and listen to podcasts or music and pray and just feel alive and strong.

So I started researching hip replacements and came across a relatively new procedure that resurfaces rather than replaces the hip. It has an excellent track record. Candidates must be under 60, have good bone and muscle health, and engage in an active lifestyle. This procedure promises that you can return to all the activities you enjoyed before surgery - yes, even running. So I found a surgeon in our our area who is certified in this procedure and set up an appointment. Turned out he didn't accept my insurance. I set up another appointment with a certified surgeon in Grand Rapids. He moved. I found another surgeon in Battle Creek. I set up the appointment. That appointment was today.

He looked at my MRI. I was given a pair of really cool hospital shorts to wear so he could take another X-ray. (Pictorial proof is offered of this.) He gathered my history. We talked. And then the words "You are an ideal candidate for this procedure." I was excited at the prospect of being able to return to a fully active lifestyle. And frankly, a little anxious at the thought of surgery. But I was thrilled at the prospect of a return to the kind of life I want to lead; I was hopeful that I could be fully me again.

On the drive home, it occurred to me that it is so very easy to be talked into a lesser lifestyle than the one we really want to live. We "settle" when we don't have to, because we are told (sometimes by "experts") that we can't have the life we really want. We're been hurt too bad or we've sinned too much or we have been abused too greatly or we didn't get what we needed or we just got a bad break or whatever. Nay-sayers are everywhere.

Never settle. Keep searching. Keep working. Find people who will be your ally; who will believe in you and the life you want. And then, when you find a path, take it. It will be exhilarating and scary and hopeful all at the same time. But it will lead to you to the life you want. For with God, all things are possible.

Tuesday, February 7, 2012

Mind Control

I'm a little over a month into my work at making 2012 my healthiest year ever in body, mind and spirit, and I've discovered something interesting about myself. I thought working on my physical health would be the hardest thing for me to do and that my efforts at spiritual health would meet the most resistance (from internal and dark spiritual forces.) My mental health is something I pretty much figured was good and would stay that way without much effort. Turns out, it's been my biggest challenge so far.

No, I'm not delusional, nor do I suffer from depression or panic attacks. But the absence of such "mental illnesses" doesn't signal that I'm mentally fit any more than the absence of cancer means I'm physically fit.

Mentally fit people manage their thoughts and emotions appropriately so that they can fulfill life's responsibilities and handle life's challenges successfully and joyfully. I always thought I did a good job of "managing thoughts and emotions". But now that I'm paying closer attention to it, I realize that there are times when I do a poor job of it. Like...
  • when I'm tired
  • when I don't feel like I'm getting much done
  • when I've had an tense or unpleasant interaction with someone
  • when things aren't working out like I want them to
I'm grateful for what closer attention to my "mental fitness" is teaching me. As I practice the disciplines that bring better mental fitness, I trust that I will improve at these critical times. I think it is appropriate to take this issue seriously, especially given these life-giving admonitions we find in Scripture:

"The weapons we fight with are not the weapons of the world. On the contrary, they have divine power to demolish strongholds. We demolish arguments and every pretension that sets itself up against the knowledge of God, and we take captive every thought to make it obedient to Christ." (2 Corinthians 10:4,5 NIV)

and

"Above all else, guard your heart (where your thoughts and emotions come from), for everything you do flows from it." (Proverbs 4:23 NIV)

How mentally fit would you say you are?

Wednesday, February 1, 2012

You Are Here

No doubt you've seen the big State maps that are found at highway rest stops, or the store layout maps found behind plastic at the local mall. There is usually a red mark or arrow accompanied by the word "You Are Here". The simple logic is that if you want to find out how to get to where you want to go, or how long it might take, you need to know where you are right now. You need bearings and directions.

So today I found the "You Are Here" mark in my physical health. I had a basic health assessment done and I've received the numbers back. (Which, by the way, accomplishes one of my fitness goals for 2012!) In an effort to be transparent, I'll share these numbers with you.

Weight: 180 This is up 15 pounds from my running days and 25 pounds from my marathoning days. (Ouch!)
Body Fat: 21% This is in the average range for men my age and only 1% away from being "Above Average" on the good side.
Pulse Rate: 70 This is in the good range. Not bad since I had 3 cups of coffee before the assesment! I've checked my pulse in the morning before getting out of bed and it's usually between 62 and 65.
Oxygen Uptake: 43 This puts me in the "Excellent" range in aerobic fitness.
Blood Pressure: 127/81 This puts me just above normal (120/80) and into what is considered "pre-hypertensive".
Cholesterol: Total cholesterol 177/HDL 54 This puts me in the "Desireable" range on both counts. My Total to HDL ratio is 3.3, with 4.4 or lower being considered good.

So what do these numbers mean? First, they mean that I can be glad that I'm in decent shape. The numbers say that I've done a reasonably good job of taking care of myself; that the work I've put in over the years has paid off. Second, they say that I need to get to work on a couple of things: lowering by percentage of body fat and my blood pressure (and that I would do well to lower my total cholesterol level a little, too.)

The good news is that there are simple ways to accomplish these things. I need to be more consistent in making healthy food choices. I need to cut my daily caloric intake a little. And I need to maintain my exercise routine. There's my road map.

In about 6 months I'll have these numbers checked again. When I do, I'll let you know how they have changed. Hopefully, they will reflect progress in my areas of need.

Oh, one more thing. Do you know where you are?

Monday, January 30, 2012

Ignorance is Bliss

Here are some things I have trouble doing:
1. Stepping on a scale
2. Having my blood pressure checked
3. Scheduling the blood test to have cholesterol levels checked

Now the reality is that none of these things are very
hard. I have a scale in the bathroom. I could go to the drugstore and get my blood pressure checked. I actually have a doctor's note for the blood tests to be taken. (And no, I'm not afraid of needles or freaked out by the sight of blood.) On the difficulty scale of things in my life, these rank very, very low.

So why are these things so hard?

It's not because I don't want to know. I do. The problem, I think, lies in this: these numbers will tell me the unequivocal truth about myself, which will then demand that I take the appropriate action.

Right now I am free to "choose" to do healthy things. It's an option. I'm smart, wise, even "cool" for doing them. If a choose to splurge every once in a while, no big deal. This is all optional; it's just a safeguard. No pressure. But if the numbers tell a bad story, then I must do the healthy thing, or I'm foolish, short-sighted and undisciplined. In other words, truth, especially unpleasant truth, comes with obligation. And obligation demands a change in lifestyle.

I think this dynamic is true in every area of life, not just our physical health. We want the truth but we cringe a little at the obligations that truth brings. We want the truth about our standing at work, the state of our relationships, the weightiness of our lives, but we fear that unpleasant truth will obligate us to substantially change our lifestyle. Change or lose. Change or die. There is no "freedom" here, there's pressure. It's as though truth and freedom are opposed to each other.

Yet Jesus said that it is the truth that leads to freedom! Truth is freedom's friend, freedom's genesis, freedom's ally. So maybe this is the crux of the matter: Real freedom isn't the capacity to do what I want, it's the capacity to do what I ought. Truth tells me what I ought to do - it points me down the right path. God helps me to walk down that path, to fulfill that obligation. This is what real freedom looks like. And it is this kind of freedom that produces a life well-lived; a long life of joy and substance.

So let's get the truth and live in freedom.

Sunday, January 22, 2012

The Slow Way Forward

Muhammad Ali once described his boxing style as "float like a butterfly, sting like a bee". If I could describe my progress in getting fitter, it would be "work like a dog, advance like a snail." Not nearly as poetic, or fun.

So I've been working out for an hour a day quite consistently for three weeks now. Net progress as far as numbers are concerned? Zero. Actually, I've gone backward. I've gained one pound. I feel achy a lot more than I used to feel. And stiff.

No, I haven't been eating stupidly. Yes, I have been exercising smartly and intensely (at least for a guy in his 50's.) Stetching? Check. Recovery time? Check. Supplements? Check.

I'd love to say "I'm building muscle, and muscle weighs more than fat." But I haven't noticed any new muscles bulging when I flex. I'd love to say "no pain, no gain", but so far it's only been pain, no gain. I need to get my numbers checked - blood pressure, cholesterol levels, etc. I fear that if I do, I'll find they might be heading in the wrong direction, too.

It's discouraging to work and not see results. Any results. Yeah, I know that if I keep at it they will come. But really, 21 days and no discernable progress? For a results-oriented kind of person like me, this is aggravating.

As I ponder this, I am reminded that I am attempting to adopt a new kind of lifestyle. A better style of living. A lifestyle isn't about quick returns. It take a lot of time to fully conform to a different lifestyle, and it takes even more time for the results of that lifestyle to fully kick in.

It was a style of life that got me to where I am now: slowly, steadily, surely. It is a style of life that will take me to where I want to go: slowly, steadily, surely. I am challenged to embrace the lifestyle, in all it's pain and frustation and lack of short-term progress. For the magic of a lifestyle is unleashed over time.

Keep crawling forward...

Sunday, January 15, 2012

Everything's Spiritual

OK, in church on Sunday we talked about "the big three" physical disciplines. Everyone was reminded that we need to eat right, exercise enough and get a proper amount of sleep. Nothing revolutionary. We already knew this stuff. Why talk about it?

Because I think most people are like me. I'm rarely tripped up by what I don't know. I'm tripped up by not doing what I do know. Sometimes I forget, but that's not my usual problem. It's that, at the moment I need to execute the plan, I don't want to. Or at least, I don't seem to want to bad enough to actually do it.

"Do not eat that piece of pie." "Shut the book and go exercise for an hour." "Turn the television off
and go to bed now." Should be easy, right? But all too often, it's not. So I wonder, how can pastry, a book or a rerun of The Office have such power over me? How can I let them come between me and the healthy life I desire?

I came across some words of the apostle Paul, uttered 2000 years or so ago, that fit my feeling exactly: "I have the desire to do what is good, but I cannot carry it out. For I do not do the good I want to do, but the evil I do not want to do—this I keep on doing." I'm familiar with these words. But a new connection was made for me. Everything's spiritual.

What Paul was describing was "the power of the moment"; that at a point of time righteous desire can be swallowed up by lesser desire. The only way for this to be overcome was through on ongoing, vital connection with God. I knew this principle worked when it came to struggles with lust or pride or anger, but now I see that it also works when it comes to struggles with pie and exercise and going to bed.

I take better care of my body when I'm taking better care of my spirit. When I'm connecting with God I am better able to overcome the power of the moment and do the righteous thing, which includes doing the right thing with my body. It may not be quite as easy as "if you want to lose weight, read the Bible", but it's not that far off!

Tuesday, January 10, 2012

This Feels Good!

So I'm 10 days into the pursuit of my 2012 goals. The hard stuff is yet to come - the weight of habits wanting to pull me back to old practices, the time crunches that threaten my newly adjusted schedule, the setbacks in my efforts, and the doubting of the reasonableness and practicality of my goals. I know these time await down the road.

But for now, I'm just feeling good!

It amazes me how the initial accomplishment of a few simple goals can have such a positive emotional affect on a person. It can't yet be said that I've changed my life by any real measure. I've just taken the first few step in a long journey. I'm not that much fitter in body, mind or spirit than I was 10 days ago.

But I feel pretty good about myself.

I think God made us to work this way. It's an internal affirmation that says, "Yes! This is the right road! Keep this up!" Our conscience affirms that acting on our good choices is a wonderful thing. Our self-image is enhanced. We begin to see ourselves in a different, in a better, light. Because of what we've actually done.

Yes, ahead I will be tested. Yes, I will need to persevere. But for now I'm grateful for the internal affirmation God gives that this path is the right one to walk. Perhaps this is a part of what God meant when He said,

"The truly happy people are those who carefully study God's perfect law that makes people free. They do not forget what they heard, but they obey what God's teaching says. Those who do this will be made happy." (James 1:25 NCV) This obedience applies to cultivating our physical, mental and spiritual health.

Thursday, January 5, 2012

The Time Challenge

Here's the big question I find myself facing as I look over my fitness goals for 2012: "When am I going to get this stuff done!"

I'm guessing you live a pretty busy life, just like me. When we set out to adopt new habits or increase current levels of activity, we've got to wrestle with scheduling issues. Since I tend to be a "fly by the seat of my pants" kind of guy, this is an especially big challenge for me. But I have come to realize a simple yet powerful truth: If I don't have it scheduled I won't get it done.

So here's the process I've learned to do over the years.

First, I determine how long it will take me to do the things I've set out to do (on a per week basis.) If I'm not sure, I guess. If I want to exercise an hour a day, that's pretty easy. If I want to read 25 books this year, I need to make an educated guess based on past reading experiences.

Second, I put into my weekly calendar a time slot to do each thing I've set out to do. I'll schedule, for instance, 30 minutes on Tuesday afternoon to do my fitness blog. If I haven't scheduled time to get something done, especially something new, the overwhelming odds are I'll never get it done!

Third, I cut or trim back other things that complete with my time for getting my goals accomplished. I ask, "Can I get by with a little less time with this so I can do that?" "What is the more important thing at this point in my life?"

Fourth, I readjust my goals, if necessary. Sometimes you have to be realistic and admit that you just can't fit something in. So you scale it back (preferable) or drop it (if there is really no other choice.)

Fifth, I let my schedule be my boss (not my god!) When it tells me it's time to do something, I just do it. As the weeks go by, if I need to make refinements, I do.

Wednesday, January 4, 2012

Healthiest Year Ever

The Challenge of 2012

As senior pastor at Connections Community Church, I have accepted the challenge to make 2012 my healthiest year ever in body, mind and spirit. Here are my health goals for this new year.

Physical health goals
: To identify my basic health numbers (blood pressure, cholesterol, etc) and make sure they are in the health range, to have the hip replacement surgery I've been putting off, to lose the 20 pounds I've gained since I've been unable to run, to consistently exercise at for one solid hour at least 5 days per week, to take up one new health-enhancing, enjoyable physical activity, and to run a 5K race before the year ends.

Mental health goals: to read at least 25 books this year, to read the top 10 blogs in my field of leadership and church ministry, to write regularly, to take one day off per week and do things I find refreshing on that day, to take all the vacation time I have coming to me, to talk to a counselor about some lingering emotional issues I deal with, to review all the Bible passages I've memorized over the years (which helps sharpen my thinking and clarifying my values), to take my study break this year.

Spiritual health goals: to have dedicated time for prayer at least 5 hours per week (perhaps a pathetic goal for a pastor, but an improvement for me), to interact with God through Scripture for at least 30 minutes 5 days per week (in addition to my Bible study and message preparation), to take one day per month for reflection, dreaming and communion with God.