As I was just fixing a few minor glitches on my blog, I realized that I have been taking my health and fitness seriously since about the summer of 2011. Given the number of hours I spend working out every week, I guess it’s normal that things fitness related would frequently make appearances on my blog. What follows is a parable/metaphor that occurred to me earlier this week.
About a month ago, a woman (me) made a poor choice. She knew her hamstrings were in a weakened state, but decided to play in a student-faculty basketball game anyway. She was frustrated that she hadn’t been able to get the hamstring issue healed up after several months of trying, and didn’t want to miss out on being in the middle of the fun.
The choice to play nearly cost her dearly, and set her back almost to the point that she had been at when she had to admit that she was going to have to slow down, ease up, and take the problems with her hamstrings seriously.
The trouble worsened when it became time to sign up to run a marathon that has been on her bucket list. She didn’t want to miss that chance, either, so she took a foolhardy leap and made the commitment. Now, she had a real dilemma, because she wanted to be able to train slowly and be strong, but her hamstrings left her needing to walk more than anything else.
One morning, as she was walking and feeling very frustrated, she began to pray about the whole situation, and a strong impression to search for any information she could find about physical therapy for hamstring injuries.
Through that search, she learned that she had misinterpreted everything she thought her body had been telling her. Although her hamstrings felt tight, her “obvious” solutions of trying for a longer stride and stretching harder were actually making the problem worse. She learned that the tight feeling was occurring because she had tears and inflammation in the muscles. The harder she tried to fix things, the worse she was making the whole worse.
Armed with knowledge from reputable experts, she began to rework her fitness schedule and habits. Instead of defining stretching as a means to super-flexibility, she redefined stretching as the means to relax her muscles and joints after a hard workout. She studied and then began implementing a healthier stride. She began listening to subtle signals from her body instead of waiting for issues to become big enough to demand attention.
Over time, her injuries began to heal, but it was a slow and frustrating process. As she was gaining strength and muscular health, she would feel her heart break every time she was walking and saw someone running. She had to fight back the fear that she would always be handicapped in her fitness pursuits. She had to work hard to find positive points and small gains to keep herself from quitting.
Eventually, the injuries healed, and the woman was a smarter runner. Even so, the memories of her time out on injury haunted her from time to time, and she was always cautious about her hamstrings. She could never shake the feeling that she had to watch and protect them more than other parts of her body.
At several points in my runs, I have seen many parallels to my spiritual fitness in my attempts at physical fitness:
- When I began running, I naively thought that it would be as easy as tying on some sneakers and hitting the road. Since that time, I have learned about pronation and supination — as well as the shoe requirements for each, differences in shoe brands, athletic clothing vs. t-shirts and shorts, sports nutrition and all sorts of other things. To run seriously, I have learned to run smart.
- Many times, I think and act as if gaining spiritual strength and fitness is simple and easy. I don’t put much thought and effort into it. I get lazy and casual. At those times, I am begging for spiritual injury. From those injuries, I have learned to take seriously the “how-tos” and also the warnings found in the scriptures. Heavenly Father sent us here for a serious purpose, and while I’m sure he has a wonderful sense of humor, his words of warning and instruction arent’ jokes.
- I am still learning to get over the idea that I can “do this running thing” all on my own. I have needed to seek out more seasoned runners, reputable websites, and other sources of information. Doing it on my own means I’m using a trial and error method, and the errors are usually painful and sometimes costly.
- Just as I need help to learn how to run, I need help to learn how to live. That is why God set up a system of prophets and apostles, both ancient and modern. That is why he has set up divinely called local leaders. I can’t “do this religious thing” all on my own.
- The worst of my injuries happened when I decided that I could get away with something I knew I shouldn’t. I knew I was hurt and shouldn’t be putting that much stress on my legs.
- In life, there will always be temptations to try to get away with little things. Most of the time, I can correct my course before too much damage occurs. Sometimes, dumb decisions bite me pretty hard. The best choice is always to do the right things the right way.
- Before I could truly make any progress toward overcoming my injury, I had to become humble enough to admit I didn’t have the answers and then I had to seek expert advice and apply it.
- Depending on the seriousness of my sins and transgression, the expert advice I need varies. Most of the time, I will need to listen to my conscience, admit I’ve messed up, pray for forgiveness, and correct what I’ve done. If I mess up badly enough, I’m going to have to seek the help of my bishop. Over time, I’ve learned that, although the bishop is called a judge in Israel, his form of judging is very different from what the common use of the term caused me to expect. His job is to assess what counsel and corrective action I need to overcome my poor choices and to become spiritually stronger. It takes humility to admit to him what I’ve done and to put his counsel into action, but it has helped EVERY time.
- All the knowledge in the world could never heal my hamstrings. I had to be willing to apply what I have learned.
- I think the parallel here is pretty obvious. I can spend months learning exactly what I need to do to overcome sins and weakness, but until I’m ready to act and apply what I know, I won’t get anywhere spiritually.
- Even though I am now doing things better, healing will take time and I may always have to watch myself closely to make sure I don’t get into the same trouble again.
- There have been some wonderful talks given on how sin, especially if it has been habitual, leaves behind a weakness that will always have to be guarded. Therefore, I would need to accept stricter boundaries than someone who never committed the same sin.
The Biggest Lesson
Thankfully, I have never had to experience a loss of membership over the sins that I have committed, but I have enough in my past to be ashamed of. Even so, Heavenly Father forgives me (and everyone else) when they truly repent and turn to him. And when he forgives, he doesn’t hold your past over you later on.
Instead, he teaches, loves, and guides. To me, the greatest miracle of all is that he takes me — with all of my imperfections — and uses me to make a difference for good in the lives of the people around me. He speaks to me, and he builds my abilities.