I offer as an admittedly superficial example the fact that today, I’m wearing my fat jeans. Now technically, I am not fat. But these particular jeans belong to a black-ops division of my wardrobe reserved for days when I’m just past the point of comfort, just beyond the place where I can make sense of things and focus my energy on what’s truly important—that is to say, outside the realm of self-focus. Sadly, this phenomenon happens with unnerving predictability about this time every year, when the short, dark days of winter are not yet a distant memory and summer is making an achingly slow entrance. All of my good intentions and discipline, spread out over the last 12 months, begin to fade. And I’m left to wonder when—if ever—I’ll tame my health/fitness goals into manageability.
On days like today, I feel utterly unqualified to offer advice on health, exercise, and mental well-being. Just last week I was lecturing my sister about the importance of eating a good breakfast and getting plenty of whole grains in her diet; yet today I struggle with a head cold that only I am to blame for—brought on by lack of rest and sugar indulgence. As Brennan Manning puts it in The Ragamuffin Gospel, “When I get honest, I admit I am a bundle of paradoxes.” I’m up, I’m down; I’m active, I’m sedentary; I’m ravenous, I’m satiated. Sometimes I deserve kindness, but at other times I must admit I’m being purely self-indulgent.
It turns out I’m qualified after all—by way of being human.
The thing about health—whether it be mental, physical, or spiritual—is that if we wish to grow, we must work at it. Absence of effort effectively translates to inactivity, which is just a step away from regression. Compounding this is the very nature of life’s vicissitudes: Just when we start to feel a semblance of control, something unexpected gets thrown into the mix.
I imagine that God watches these battles being waged within me and shakes His head. As much as He desires for us to treat our bodies with honor, it must also amuse Him that we spend so much time preening and fussing, scrutinizing and agonizing. There is a perfect balance that He wants for us…and admittedly, I’ve yet to achieve it.
I want desperately to live a life that is well-adjusted: my relationships with God, family, and self each bundled up neatly, my priorities all in order. No unsightly bulges, disproportionate focus, or misspent energy. Neither given to self-indulgence nor deprived in a way that defeats any good intention.
One certainty about living is that we all struggle in one way or another. But the greater truth is that we’re covered by grace. Wholly, completely, without reservation. When I remember that, I wonder how I ever judged myself so harshly. I’m far more inclined to treat my body as the temple God intends for it to be, not the idol I so easily make of it.