Thursday, January 18, 2007

Staying (Spiritually) Healthy Requires Diet and Exercise

I'm overweight. It's a medical fact; doctors first began telling my mother this when I was a toddler. I've heard it from physicians all my life.

Weight is one of those taboo topics you're not supposed to discuss because it makes people squirm. Stick with me here a minute. There's a spiritual point to be made that involves my waistline.

Now, I've been told for the past couple decades I should lose 10-15 pounds to reach an ideal weight for my height. Cancer and heart disease run in my family, so I've tried to follow my doctor's suggestions. This includes eating a high-fiber diet, drinking eight glasses of water daily, and exercising four days a week. I've been relatively consistent with this routine for many years. Despite my best efforts, my weight hasn't changed much.

In the last couple years, I've heard media reports that differ from what my doctors have told me. Health reports state the majority of Americans are overweight, and most tote around an extra 10-15 pounds. According to those reports, mildly overweight folks, like me, are normal--we really don't have to worry about our excess flab, they say. I've heard that a pear-shaped body, like I have, allows a gal to pack on a little extra poundage and still remain healthy. I've heard that waist size is a better indicator for health than weight. By the waist standard, I'm doing great.

Still, my doctor continues to suggest I try to lose weight--with an emphasis on the word "try." Even if the pounds don't come off, my efforts are good for my body, the doc says. So who do I listen to: my doctor, who has tested and measured my body, or those random health reports that were written by people who've never met me?

I know my doctor is the wise one here. But it's often frustrating to try so hard and not see the scale budge. Sometimes, I'm tempted to listen to those health reports. Sometimes I'd like to believe I'm average, relatively healthy, and that I don't need to worry about my weight one bit. That I'd be OK if I dropped my diet and exercise programs altogether. If I did that, I'd just be ignoring the most basic health truth: that everyone, regardless of their weight, should be eating right, drinking lots of water, and exercising. I'd be deceiving myself.

This got me thinking about how we Christians can water down our faith (spiritual point now delivered as promised!). We talk about God's love, Jesus' sacrifice, and how anyone can have eternal life just by asking. But too often we leave out the parts about how Christians must continuously seek a relationship with God, and we must strive to be like Jesus for the rest of our natural lives. We do tell folks they're accepted as-is, but fail to explain that God expects us to always try to be a little better. (Again, the pivotal word here is "try.") It may not be intentional, but when we omit God's expectations from the message of salvation, we are deceiving others.

I often feel I'm deceiving myself in spiritual ways, too. I overindulge on raunchy television shows, telling myself, I'm keeping myself culturally informed! I laugh at a comedian's dirty remark or jokingly let a swear word fly, then rationalize, I'm a funny person--I'm just being true to myself! I angrily tailgate in traffic to ensure no one dares cut me off, thinking, My actions are justified by others' bad behavior!

A recent Scrubs re-run opened my eyes. The TV episode featured a character who seemed to be the perfect Christian. Everyone tip-toed around this Christian, watching their language and trying to act just as moral and clean-cut as they perceived her to be. But then the Christian uttered a swear word. Suddenly, everyone relaxed and began acting normal toward her. Others now perceived her as a "cool Christian"--she was, in their eyes, basically just like them.

At times, I've likewise convinced myself it's OK to do or say whatever I please. I've thought, Maybe non-Christians will see me as down-to-earth and approachable if I swear a little or do something "sinful." Maybe they'll feel at ease if they see I'm just like everyone else ...

Uh oh. Suddenly, I remember my commitment as a Christian is to obey and serve the most high God. It's not my job to make sin seem benign or make people feel less sinful. (Equally, it isn't my doctor's job to make me feel good about myself--her commitment is to honestly tell me what I need to do for good health.) I remember God has called me to be different: "Don't be like the people of this world, but let God change the way you think. Then you will know how to do everything that is good and pleasing to him" (Romans 12:2, CEV). And to be changed: "Anyone who belongs to Christ is a new person. The past is forgotten, and everything is new" (2 Corinthians 5:17, CEV).

Admittedly, it's frustrating to keep trying to live like Jesus, and to continuously fail. Sometimes, I don't see immediate results. It doesn't seem my faith is deeper, or that God can trust me to handle bigger challenges in life. But I've got to keep on trying because my efforts boost my overall spiritual health. Above all, I need to look to the Master Physician, who will always give it to me straight when he's assessing my heart and soul.

To ponder:
1) Do you overindulge on something that's not good for your spirit?

2) Is something missing from your spiritual diet?

3) In trying to fit in with friends who aren't Christians, Holly's made some bad choices. Think about how you act around friends who aren't Christians. Do you act differently with your Christian friends? Consider Romans 12:2: "... let God change the way you think. Then you will know how to do everything that is good and pleasing to him." Ask God to change the way you think. Then let your actions always be natural around all your friends--they will see you as real and transparent, and they will see God is present in your life.

4) Joining forces with a buddy helps many people stick to their diet and exercise routines. Consider finding buddies within your church. For spiritual growth, seek out discipleship programs, or ask a more spiritually mature person to mentor you. For support and fellowship, join a small group. For accountability, find a friend to confide in and pray with.

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