In 1999 I ran a marathon. My one and only full marathon. I was in college working toward a degree in Fitness Management. I enjoyed running. I enjoyed exercise classes. I dappled a little in the weight room even. Plus I was learning how to help others be healthier and fitter and more and more about technique, execution and efficiency of movement as the semesters progressed. So, in my mind, a logical next goal for me was running a marathon. Or so I thought.
Looking back now at the girl I was then and the shape I was in - physically, mentally and spiritually - I can say that running that marathon was NOT a good decision for me. I am not regretful. I don't wish I didn't run it. But I do wish that I could go back and tell that almost 22 year-old she was worthy. She was loved. She was beautiful.
Yes, I heard these words from my family and my boyfriend (now, husband). Yes, I heard these words from my Pastor as he told me how much Jesus loved me. Yes, I heard these words from my friends. I was even SHOWN generous love by so many. I was surrounded by so many people who loved me just as I was. Yet, I didn't let it sink in. I didn't let it settle in my inmost thoughts and feelings. I didn't let it brew in my being. Instead I allowed hurtful thoughts to consume my mind. I allowed self-pity to erode my self-confidence. I allowed self-loathing to mask my steady discontent. Every. Single. Day.
On the day of my marathon instead of being stoked that I was running in Ireland, that I just got to eat and dance the night before at Trinity College in Dublin, that I was scheduled to take a train trip the next day to see the Cliffs of Moher, and that my body was healthy enough to run 26.2 miles, I was caught up in the fact that I felt fat in my pants. That I wish I looked like my roommate (who was in her 40s and was running her 5th marathon). That I was nervous about what my hair looked like (it was raining and I just didn't know what to do about that). That I probably shouldn't eat the fish and chips because it'll just make me bloat.
As I look back now, I can identify these behaviors and processes of thought to be an attempt at shaming myself into shape. Friends, if that is how you are getting in shape, let me tell you from first-hand experience that that is NOT a sustainable way to stay in shape. You may get there - I mean I was capable of running a marathon and by all outward appearance looked like I was "in shape". But that type of mentality and motivation to exercise will only leave you feeling hollow. Feeling small. Feeling as if your efforts are NEVER. ENOUGH.
A few examples of shaming yourself into shape would be:
- to force yourself to exercise today because you overate yesterday
- to exercise with the sole intent to transform your body to look like someone else's
- to exercise in order to offset all of the other poor lifestyle choices you make
- to use exercise as a means of punishment
- to use exercise as a means of control
An analogy I like to use for this method of getting in shape is if you were to somehow feel better and more forgiven by the amount of guilt you bear for something bad you did. That you only feel worthy of forgiveness because you wallowed in guilt and shame for a few days and felt rotten about yourself for your actions, yet you never brought this guilt to the cross of Jesus - never recognizing that this guilt is inherently wrong. Never coming to the realization that you can do NOTHING to affect Jesus' forgiveness other than reject it. He forgives you regardless of how guilty or not guilty you feel for your sins. Just like exercise benefits your body despite your faulty motivations. But you miss out on making it an act of worship when all you care about is what you look like, or what number the scale reads or how your body compares to every other woman's body you see. You fail to use your exercise as a means to bring God glory, instead you want to bring attention to yourself. Even if it's negative attention. Self-loathing is still self-worship.
Shame, hate and a case of "I have to's" are powerless to help you get healthier and fitter.
Because that's what Jesus chose for you. The Psalmist reminds us in Psalm 139:14 that God's works are wonderful! That includes you and me! He then says that "I know this full well". I want you to ask yourself, do you know it full well? Do you know that you are wonderful in the eyes of the King of Kings, the Master of the universe, your Father in heaven? Or do you feel you have to exercise in order to be wonderful? I want you to reverse that way of thinking. You get to exercise because you are wonderful! What a way to praise Him.
Dear Heavenly Father: God I love you. I love how you have surrounded me with Your love from the day I was born. Lord God, forgive me. Forgive me for not recognizing this love, for refusing this love and for ignoring this love. God, the evil one knows my weaknesses and he preys on them. Guard and shield me from all of his attacks, schemes, lies and seductive ploys . Let your love shield me from the despair of low self-esteem, of self-loathing and self-worship. Lord God, my body is a beautiful work wonderfully and carefully crafted by You. You have given me a unique purpose and a unique body, unlike anyone else's. Forgive me when I don't see it for what it is and wish for what it isn't. Lord God, Creator of the universe, I know You know me intimately. I know you love me because You sent your Son, Jesus to save me. Lord, thank you! Thank you for loving me, even when I don't love myself. Thank you for filling me with your love and showering me with your grace and mercy. Instead of shaming myself into shape, Lord, equip me with the desire and will to steward my body into shape.