I wish I was thinner.
I wish I was lighter.
I wish I was stronger.
I wish I was faster.
I wish I was fitter.
I think we all desire self improvement, to look back at our past selves as something we have surpassed, to look back at our past struggles as something we have overcome.
Sometimes, but not always, God desires the same thing.
Sometimes, but not always, God considers these things important.
There are parts of my life that God, for his own inscrutable reasons, decides to step in — sometimes with a with gentle-but-firm “ahem” and sometimes with a loud and firm “no”. Or worse.
God gets in my ear when I talk to my kids. “No Pablum, No half answers.” God gets in my ear when I study “No laziness, no shortcuts. No easy answers.” God gets in my when I’m being creative for church or events “I know your talents. Offer them all to me”. God gets in my ear when I neglect prayer, an unspoken but palpable silence that says “It’s about time”
Those may not be the things that rouse God’s attention to your life. They may not be the things that sound the alarms of your conscience, that wake the Lion of Judah whose growl is as fearsome as his teeth. Those things may not cause the spirit to whisper in your ear. And that’s OK.
Something I have learned is that we all have different walks with God. God (beyond the specific instance Jesus Christ) is not yet back in the business of human perfection. Instead we are all subjected to a slow inexorable process of perfecting and a promise that God will see the process through to completion. If not in this world then the next. Philippians 1:6 – “that he who began a good work in you will carry it on to completion until the day of Christ Jesus.”
God will complete me. In his time. In his order. And when I pray “not my will but yours” I submit myself to that time and that order.
Temperamentally, I am not a creature of fitness. I look at sport the way people look at prison. I stand in the cell of the sportsfield and look longingly at the spectators and wonder how long until I, too, am paroled.
Strenuous physical activity is to me like getting my wife pregnant. It is an understandable and perhaps unavoidable side effect of some things I really enjoy, it has brought great joy into my life, but to be honest, is something I hope never to do again.
But enough metaphors.
Yes. I think being fit and healthy is by many objective measures, a good idea. Of course. It prolongs life, it enhances aesthetic appeal, it opens up avenues of activity and experience unavailable to unfit people. Fit people cost less in medical care, are less likely to die, they literally sleep better and breathe easier.
Sticking to facts, there is no counter argument to be made. Health is healthy. Being unfit is unhealthy. Being fat is unhealthy. Things that make us unhealthy make us unhealthy. And vice versa.
Health is a value. But not the only value.
Let me tell you about Greg.
Greg is my friend. Greg owns a gym.
I worked with Greg for many years, seated, in an air-conditioned office.
Greg and I share very similar outlooks on sports and strenuous physical effort.
But Greg loves his partner. Greg’s partner loves fitness and health. Greg’s ownership of a gym, while good business, is an act of love and support for his partner. Greg dislikes many things about gym people. He designed his gym to inhospitable to weightlifters, and crossfitters, the grunters and the zealots. Greg’s place is a place to get healthy, not because Greg wants to, but because his partner does.
Let me tell you about Aaron.
I met Aaron at Greg’s gym. (His name isn’t actually Aaron, but I’ll call him that, I could call him much worse.) Aaron didn’t like fitness either. For him fitness was a means to an end. He was getting fit to impress a girl. Aaron desired a girl who had cast aspersions on his physical experience. Aaron desired the girl so he was losing his beer belly and building his biceps. He called it gunrunning. Soon, he told me, he would be fit enough to catch her eye.
Aaron was almost 50, married, with four kids. The girl he was gunrunning for was not his wife. That girl was 22.
Aaron was a [EXPLETIVE DELETED]. But he taught me a lesson. Good ends can be pursued for crap reasons. Motivation matters.
Aarons said his wife loved his new body. Poor girl.
Greg’s gym was a labour of love. Aarons gym was a betrayal of love.
Why do I want to be fit and beautiful? It matters. If the reasons are good, the blessing of health will be mine. If they are not, well, does it profit a man to gain the guns, the pack the six and lose his soul?
Health is a good thing, but not the same as goodness. Unhealthy people can be good people. Healthy People can be bad.
You may wonder, why was Seth at a gym? Well, my brother was getting married and the suits he wanted us to wear didn’t come in my size. That was a good reason. I had been motivated to go to the gym before, but God growled at my motivations. But not this time. This time God was contented to purr happily. So I gymed.
I got as small as I’d ever been, as fit as I’d ever been. I cycled and rowed and lifted and sweat, and I succeeded, I got into my suit and through my speech. Josiah got married. And then, like the hare in the old story, I took a well earned rest, and while I slept, the tortoise of my lost weight caught back up to me and overtook me.
I hate that tortoise.
So what of the theological? Yes, I am a temple. Well, the point of a temple is not to shine in itself but to hand it’s glory unto God. The temple is not the glorious thing, God is. The enemy of God temple is not fat or carbs or salt or sugar whatever the current demon of big nutrition is. The enemy of God is sin. And sin is, first and foremost, to fail to listen to God’s “Ahem”, God’s “No!” and God’s deep, indignant growl.
That said, while there isn’t a theological issue here, there still is an issue here. I know I should be fitter than I am. I know I should be smaller than I am. God may not be vested in it. But I should be. I should collect the good reasons. I should ferret out the bad ones and excise them. I should be better than I am. I want that. But I’ll need help.
I’ll need someone to pick me up. Because I have no natural inclination toward it.
I’ll need someone to guard the door. Because I have great natural inclination to escape it.
I’ll need someone checking my motivations. Because sin easily entangles, and winds its way into stories that started well.I’ll need a lot of forgiveness because Krispy Kreme just opened in New Zealand and I am only human, and worse than that, American.
You may think to yourself “My that sounds like strenuous effort.” And you would be right. And lord knows, I avoid strenuous effort too. But as you put that effort aside, listen carefully, is God growling? If he is, I may be your next ministry. And you, my friend, may be stuck with me.