Wednesday, April 26, 2017

Ruminating About Running

It’s a beautiful day, and it started off well. After having a quiet time, I went to run at the Victor Ashe and Northwest Greenways. Pretty nice little trail—especially the part that goes along Third Creek—and surprisingly few people using it. I probably only ran three miles today. I’m still not going very fast and I am struggling (especially up hills) but I’m finally noticing some improvement. I’ve been running consistently again for four weeks, since the week after my dad died, about three days a week. I look forward to when I can run five or six miles at a decent pace. I haven’t run at all since last fall—and didn’t do it consistently then. I decided to get serious about this for a number of reasons:

1. I’ve lost 30-35 pounds and have kept it off for two years but have plateaued (weight loss-wise) at 172-175 pounds. I still have a flabby belly and need to get in shape. This was the plan: first lose weight and keep it off, then get in shape. I tried several times to get in a habit of running again when I weighed 200+ lbs. and it hurt my knees and back. I totally get it! It was like having a 35-pound backpack strapped on! Crazy!

2. Someone recently said I looked “frail.” I guess it’s better than “fat” or “fiendish” or “frightful” but I don’t like the idea of being frail. Truth is, I’ve resisted the temptation to lift weights (something I enjoy doing much more than running!) because I tend to get thick and don’t want to look that way (or have to buy new clothes). Opposite of frail, I fear working out can make me look like I am vain or take pride in my muscularity (maybe not at my age! I could be just telling myself that!). Admittedly, I’m kinda suspicious of 50-year-old men with noticeable muscles (especially when they have a great tan and gold nugget jewelry). I think I would rather give off the impression of humility. I’m not naturally skinny. I’m naturally stocky. It’s amazing how quickly my body wants to return to default setting! I have to fight it all the time.

3. My dad was disciplined physically and always encouraged me to be. He ran, as long as he was able, his whole adult life. I’ve thought about this a lot since his decline and death. I always respected him for this discipline, and probably because of it he lived longer than any males in his ancestry that we know about, despite having cancer!! His father and grandfather both died in their fifties.

4. I’m fifty! Besides my Sparks heritage, I’m not getting any younger and it’s not going to get any easier to get in shape!

5. My stage in life has finally allowed for more flexible time to do so. I only have one kid who is still at home (and she’s leaving for college in June) who is driving, busy, and quite independent. Thankfully, the church is in a place staff-wise that does not require me to spend as much time as I have in the past doing more than I should. Yes, it's still very busy, but my schedule is more controllable (versus being more in control of me!). Thank you, Lord. Truth is, time (or lack of it) is usually the primary factor determining whether or not I am working out.

Back-in-the-day flashback. Had to work
to GAIN weight back then. Not now.
6. The weather is great this time of year. I wanted  to get started running months ago but the weather was a discouraging factor. I know, call me a wimp. I’m just practical. I know that I need the right conditions to get started if I’m going to stick with it. Hopefully, the worst part is now in the rear view mirror. God, help me to stay with it. I’d love to find a chin-up bar and place where I can do some push-ups and sit-ups and I’d love to play something like tennis or basketball or racquetball regularly where I can get some supplemental vigorous and fun exercise. But those might be hard on the old man joints and back. I still wake up most mornings with a stiff and mildly painful back (11 years after surgery). And I don’t want to get an injury and have to have more surgery. And I really don’t want to do the very popular HIT (high intensity training) or CrossFit as a few of my friends are doing. For one thing I hate being sore! I was sore for over a decade of playing football and other athletics when I worked out hard. And I really don't have the time and don’t want to be looking like a fitness nut or a weight lifter (not that I could or that there’s anything wrong with any of that, just not the goal)!

Here’s my real motivation: I just want to be reasonably healthy and do everything possible as Paul says in 1 Corinthians 9, “to become all things to all people, that by all means I might save some. I do it all for the sake of the gospel, that I may share with them in its blessings” (verses 22-23). Paul says we should “run” in such a way as to win the prize. And just as athletes exercise self-control, I should “discipline my body and keep it under control,” literally, “pummel my body” (v. 27). The prize we desire is not like those trophies or benefits that perish, but is a much greater “imperishable” one (v. 25). Whatever that is, that’s what I want. He said that he did not want to be “disqualified” “after preaching to others.” I’ve thought long and hard about what that means. I don’t think it means we would be disqualified for heaven. I think it means that there are “preachers” out there (not just professional preaching pastors, but Christians who are proclaimers of the Gospel) who are considered “disqualified” both in the minds of those who hear their words (even if they preach the truth of God) and perhaps in the view of God himself if they did not practice what they preached or believed. Among other things, we preach that our bodies are temples of the Holy Spirit who indwells us. His temple should reflect our respect for him. We preach that our highest goal is to bring glory to God. Just as our homes should not be sloppy and an embarrassment since it is a reflection on our God, neither should our bodies be. They reflect our diligence and care. We preach that God wants us to live circumspect lives and to do all things “as unto God and not men.” So we do not seek physical fitness or anything else “aimlessly…as one beating the air” (v. 26) but as one who has a purpose. That purpose is to glorify God. Paul said to his disciple and young pastor, Timothy, “bodily training is of some value…” but he is quick to remind him what is much more important: “godliness is of value in every way, as it holds promise for the present life and also for the life to come” (1Timothy 4:8).

I’ve been around athletes, health nuts, and people who want to look athletic all my life. For much of my life I’ve pursued physical fitness and athletic excellence. Here’s one of those places where a proper balance of moderation and self-discipline should triumph. Like other good things, a lack of wisdom and proportion can make good the enemy of best. I’m speaking of my own situation not others’, so please don’t misunderstand. I know there are all kinds of variables regarding physical fitness for everyone, and we’re all different. I just know my sinful heart. If I’m not struggling with laziness, I’m struggling with the temptation to compete and be obsessed over the next athletic goal. Been there. Not going back. Lord help me.

God, I just want to make the most of the days you’ve given me on this earth. I just want to be able to communicate your truth without being a distraction or detriment in any way. I want you to be seen and known and loved and obeyed. I want to be completely yielded to you so that I can be used by you. Help me to know where physical training fits in to all this. I love you.

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