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.