Guest Post: Firm Believer: Staying in Shape for the Right Reasons

This week’s guest post is from my good friend, Lily Gross.   Lily has lived an fast paced life living in places from Madagascar, Colorado, Maine and now she is back in the great state of Texas… for now.  I admire Lily for her eloquence and her insight when it comes to the world around us.  I was excited to know that she wanted to contribute here.

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I have fallen victim (well, in a voluntary kind of way) to our culture’s obsession with keeping up appearances: buying things to impress others with my wealth and taste, pursuing a career that is the envy of others, and maintaining a physique that shows my neighbors I have the money, time and self-discipline to stay thin. Relative to that last point, I have dieted and juice-fasted and put in long hours at the gym all in the name of vanity.

Historically my inspiration to work out and stay trim came from a feeling of subconscious insecurity: that I’m not skinny enough, not toned enough, don’t look perfect in a bikini. Pictures of svelte models and the mental image of good-looking men ready to judge my body: these are what kept me returning to the treadmill. In fact, a major reason I’ve had memberships at co-ed gyms was knowing I’d hold myself accountable to a good workout if cute guys were there to witness me huff and puff on the elliptical in my cute spandex ensemble.

With goals inspired by vanity, I set myself up for either disappointment and guilt or pride and self-idolization. If I failed to eat few enough calories and to run enough miles, my heart sank when I stepped on the scale, crushing my spirit. If I succeeded in losing weight and looked in the mirror and liked what I saw, my ego inflated and I gave myself all the credit for a job well done. Of course even the latter outcome is subject to defeat: just when I’d begin feeling accomplished and sexy, I’d find something else about my body to criticize. And God forbid a woman thinner/fitter than me crossed my path; then I’d be completely deflated and have to trudge back to the gym disheartened.

I could blame the media. The entertainment industry and advertisers have something to sell the American public: a feeling of dissatisfaction with what we already have. Don’t have a Lexus? You should. Got crow’s feet? Disgusting! Flabby? You’ll never have a love life. So we are fed the lies that we aren’t good enough and that we need to buy whatever’s being sold to solve the problem. But while the media should be scrutinized and in some cases boycotted for their destructive messages, they don’t own my wallet and they don’t own my mind. It’s up to me to buy or not buy a product; it’s up to me to succumb to feeling sub-par. In the sage words of Eleanor Roosevelt, “No one can make you feel inferior without your consent.”

Of course our BMI, the make/model of our car, and what degrees we hold mean nothing to God – which is ironic, given that those are things we most intensely pursue but it’s His approval and love we as Christians should be seeking first and foremost. He cares more about how we’re working out our hearts, figuratively. What am I doing to positively affect the lives of those around me? How am I bringing glory to Him? Am I more concerned with storing up my treasures in heaven or here on earth?

So if I’ve given up on maintaining my physique for the sake of show, what then is my motivation? Healthy eating and exercise are in and of themselves certainly nothing sinful. God gave us these temples with the charge of taking care of them, so that they can do His good work and live a long and prosperous life. That entails selecting the right kinds of food – both spiritual and tangible – to most effectively engage our bodies in godly activities.

I’ve always found science and Christianity compatible, and in that vein I’ve always seen God as the ultimate scientist. He’s the creator of atoms and cells and cardiovascular systems and nutrition. He designed us to run optimally when fit. Regular, sustained physical activity elevates endorphin levels, promotes better sleep, increases blood flow to the brain, and staves off infection. If we apply the biblical metaphor to ourselves as being soldiers in God’s army, imagine how ineffective we are when we’re malnourished, tired, and sick. Before we go into battle, we need to invest in our wellness, physiologically and otherwise, so we are ready to serve Him in every way possible.

I can’t promise that I won’t occasionally be tempted to lose weight because of an upcoming reunion or pool party, because, well, I’m a young woman susceptible to vanity in a world that abides by it. But I can promise that my efforts will truly be in vain if not for the right reasons and will leave me feeling hollow and unfulfilled. Train with me as I prepare myself for whatever God has in store, and together we can make up a strong, healthy corps of followers of Jesus.