The Idolatry of Physical Fitness and What to Do About It
A great deal of the culture places physical fitness up on a pedestal, like some idol to be worshipped and admired. Most of us see this idyllic level of physical fitness a goal far beyond anything we could ever achieve. Therefore we find ourselves battling between believing we need to look like the cover of a magazine in order to be even remotely worthy of love and the need to love and accept ourselves just as we are.
Today we are continuing in our study in Becoming an Excellent Wife and we’ve come upon Proverbs 31:17...
She dresses herself with strength and makes her arms strong.
The physical strength that the Excellent Wife has isn’t about vanity or the need to be acceptable by society. Instead, it helps her to make a bigger impact in the world.
Just based off of the information that we already know about being physically fit, she probably had a greater endurance — she was able to physically do more than someone who was out of shape. The physically-fit Excellent Wife also would have been more emotionally stable than a woman who was depressed, angry, and miserable over her physical condition.
Clearly, keeping a physically healthy body is important, but how do we find that middle ground between idolizing physical fitness and completely ignoring the condition of our bodies?
Before we dive into that, I have to admit to you that this is one of those areas where I continue to struggle…. a lot. So instead of speaking to you from the position of an expert, I have asked some of the experts in this field to help you and I move through this together. Let’s see what they have to say.
The Spiritual Discipline of Physical Fitness
Phylicia Masonheimer talks about shifting gears from idolizing fitness into turning physical fitness into a spiritual discipline. This is an angle I have glanced through now and again, but my own guilt and shame around this issue has stopped me from looking for too long.
As she uncovers the connection between physical discipline and spiritual discipline, Phylicia says "The physical act of pushing myself past the comfort zone taught me that doing the hard thing – though tough in the moment – brings greater satisfaction than only doing what feels good. Fitness of body has many parallels to fitness of spirit. As we work out our bodies, our understanding of spiritual perseverance deepens as well.”
If physical fitness could, in fact, be a spiritual discipline, then I have uncovered yet another place where I am failing in my spiritual walk.
Alas, it's time to stop and take a good, hard look. Like it or not.
Understand Your Body is the Temple of the Holy Spirit
Christine Leahy talks about growing up in a home riddled with the issues brought on by obesity and her own struggle with her weight. After years of poor decisions about her health and the consequences of those decisions, she was hit with the realization that the body she was ignoring was the temple of the Holy Spirit. This realization changed everything for her.
If the Holy Spirit truly is living within us, we have a responsibility to properly care for the temple in which He resides. Christine compared this to providing a nice, clean, comfortable place for her guests in her home. If we are willing to do the work that is required to make our guests feel welcome, why on earth would we settle for doing less for the Holy Spirit?
As Candace Playforth points out, we can't do this on our own. Our own will power will never be enough. We got ourselves in this situation and the harder we fight against it, the deeper into the quicksand we will go. We must surrender this over to God and ask Him to do the heaviest lifting… what Candace calls the "soul work."
If our heart is still craving the box of donuts or bag of chips, then our flesh will be more than happy to oblige. Trust me. I know this.
See, my flesh is weak... oh so very weak.
And as long as I keep my eyes focused on all the things I can’t have, those are the things that I’m going to crave. The problem isn’t the food. The problem is my focus.
Put God First
Kelsey Ferguson hit it right on the nose when she said, "The main reason that I’m unhealthy is because I have placed so many crutches above God. Comfort eating, general laziness, etc..."
But she's right! I can list a million "reasons" why my body is the way that it is, but when we cut down to the nitty-gritty truth of it all, it's because I've relied on all those unhealthy crutches for so long. It’s because I’ve refused to be uncomfortable regardless of what I knew to be best.
I have devoured the physical food instead of soaking in the spiritual food that God has provided for me in His word. I've over-indulged in rest when I could have gotten up and expended energy in some activities. I've sat around allowing my mind to be entertained by useless television and social media.
The question begs to be asked... What if I was able to put away these ineffective crutches and cling to something that actually supported my desire to be strong and healthy?
Practice Spiritual Discipline to Enhance Physical Discipline
Tabitha from Meet Penny noticed a significant impact in making sure she had her daily time in God's Word. Not only did it impact her ability to eat well, but amazingly her house was cleaner too.
How true is that?! I’ve noticed over the years that the deeper the discipline I have to spending time in God’s Word, the more disciplined I am in the other areas of my life. This is just as relevant for my ability to practice discipline over what I eat. When I take greater care to fill myself with God’s presence, then I’m not seeking to be filled with the things of this world… i.e. spiritual food vs physical food.
Center Yourself on a Reason That Matters
Over and over again, I’ve read about the importance of connecting to something that is really important to us as a motivation for staying consistent and disciplined. For me, this has never been washboard abs or a “heart-shaped” butt.
Becky from So Very Blessed highlights the importance of ditching the idea of working out for vain reasons like muffin-tops and chiseled abs. Like I said, this has never motivated me. But what will motivate me is knowing that I can achieve a strong and healthy body so that I can run this race with purpose and endurance.
Echoing this same idea, Brandice from A Grace Filled Plate says, "Train like it matters. I get it, not eating is not easy. If it were easy to make self-controlled food choices, the size and shape of the people around us would look a lot different! We aren’t training for smaller jeans, we are training for something bigger- godliness! Think about the importance of your choice to eat in your training."
There’s also an aspect of good financial stewardship when it comes to taking care of our health. Jennifer Clarke from A Devine Encounter reminded me of the financial impact that being unhealthy can have both short and long term. “Better health generally means fewer medical appointments, which saves both time and money. It’s just one more way in which exercise helps us steward well the blessings God has granted.”
Give Yourself Some Grace
One of the greatest struggles I have had around my health is a cycle of beating myself into guilt-ridden submission, depriving myself, failing, over-indulging, feeling guilty and incapable … and then starting the cycle over again.
Brittany from Equipping Godly Women reminded me that one of the number one tools to have in my pocket for this journey toward a healthier me is grace. Grace covers a multitude of sins... even the sin of laziness and gluttony.
Now, just as with any sin, we are not to abuse this grace and trample on the blood of Christ. So when it comes to my physical health, God's grace shouldn’t be an excuse to keep doing what I’ve been doing. It can pull me up out of the guilt and shame that I typically fall into (which, ironically enough, only leads me to more over-indulgence in comfort foods and laying around feeling sick and tired and sorry for myself...) This grace gives me a chance to stand back up, dust off my knees and keep moving forward.
I want to challenge you today to stop whatever unhealthy cycles you’ve put yourself through. Practice the same grace with yourself that God has. Then commit yourself to making healthy choices that will enable you to run this race with endurance and joy all the days of your life.
I’ve compiled a list of amazing (and totally FREE) Christ-centered resources that will help you along the way.
Free Health & Fitness Resources From Around the Web
Keep It Simple
1. 10 Simple Steps to a Leaner, Healthier You by Abby Ayers
Biblical Weight Loss Plan
2. 31 Days Of Weight Loss God’s Way by Revelation Wellness
Weight Loss Podcast
3. Christian Weight Loss Podcast by Barb Raveling
4. Joy Playlist by Stacie Nelson at Amazing Mess
5. Christian Running Music Playlist by Jenae at I Can Teach My Child
6. 70+ Christian Workout Songs by Samantha at Creative Clever & Classy
Would you like to join me in striving to become a better wife? Download the [thrive_2step id='8223'] "Becoming an Excellent Wife" Workbook[/thrive_2step] and walk alongside me in this journey.
Question for reflection:
✽ What has been your greatest challenge in getting/staying physically fit?
Share your thoughts with us in the comments below.