11 January, 2014

Bodily Exercise Profiteth

For bodily exercise profiteth little: but godliness is profitable unto all things, having promise of the life that now is, and of that which is to come. 1 Tim 4:8 (KJV)

“Physical training is good, but training for godliness is much better, promising benefits in this life and in the life to come.” 1 Tim 4:8 (NLT)

I've dedicated an average of 30 minutes a day for the last 2+ years to the first physical training program I've done since the Army. My inner Damentalist scold (Christian Fundamentalist - minus the Fun) reminds me daily this theft of 200 hours a year from God and myself, stolen from my poverty only to feed my pride, is shameful. In fact, to this day I hide my training like a literature professor hides his Louis L'Amour collection. But, like that professor, I keep doing it.

"Hello. My name is Kevin Knox and I do physical training."

But the faux-Training Anonymous introduction is not quite right, because I'm only writing this to persuade you to train physically, too. I should say something more like, "Psst. Hey, Buddy! Wanna score some pushups? I can hook you up right over here. The  price is right."

I'm probably the only guy I know who avoided exercise because of this verse. On the other hand, somehow, I'm also the only guy I know not currently avoiding exercise! So far as I can tell, everyone else is avoiding it like fermented beet juice. Really, most people avoid exercise for normal, rational reasons: it hurts, it sucks up time better spent not hurting, and all it does is enable them to do more things that also hurt. Most people are already physically able to do all the stuff they really like doing (like watching football players hurt themselves for money) so exercise is a clear and present negative with no positives - at all.

Of course, there is the weight/health thing, but let's ignore that. Everyone thinks they should exercise so they can be thinner. The doctors all say if we're sexier, I mean "thinner", we'll live longer and be able to do all the stuff we want to do. Our TVs, jobs, insurance companies, billboards, radios, Internet pop-up ads, and one of our Facebook friends who just lost 8 pounds all remind us the doctor said it, too. But weight-loss is a crock. I'll get this out of the way quick, losing a single pound of fat by exercise hurts too much for too long to survive as a real option. It works for a couple hormonally blessed people who see tangible results, and it works in short bursts for some unmarried people, but for purposes of this discussion we can profitably toss weight loss out the window. Weight loss persuades few to add physical training to their lives.

What persuaded me?

For me it was tennis. After all these years, I'm still addicted to losing tennis matches, but my knees were tiring of the whole affair. Unable to walk up stairs or crawl into bed like a bipedal primate, I was confronted with an ugly choice. I could start reminiscing at age 47 about my glory days on a tennis court, or start doing squats like a second religion. I chose the latter, and within a couple months I could walk like a created being again. After a year I'd forgotten what it was like to fear stairwells.

The decision was almost magical.

If, on October 1, 2011, I'd been able to pray a quick prayer and live for one day with the knees I have now, I'd have broken down in tears, praised the Divine Healer, and remembered that day for the rest of my life. The healing came, just not overnight. It wasn't magical in practice, but looking back it still feels that way. In practice, I did squats two days a week and went through three kinds of pain. Warmup hurt because the tendons didn't want to play along. Exercise hurt because my muscles didn't want to play along. Recovery hurt because I'm not 25 any more. But when my knees started working again, I was hooked.

I set a goal of 11 pullups. I had no idea what kind of goal that was, but I set it and started the process. Two years in, I'm only up to three, and  I could already do one when I started. Two years is a long, long time to spend getting from 1 pullup to 3. I responded to that frustration in several different ways. Impatience made me unhappy. Intensity led me to injure myself. Doubt was the most profitable. Doubt got my creative juices flowing and drove me to try some of the stuff that's working now.

So, what did I learn by all those pullups? I learned there's technique to the pullup. It doesn't look like it, but poor technique will stall progress and/or lead to injury. There's an obvious need for strength, but I also learned there's a need for coordination. Lastly, I learned the pullup is not the goal! The pullup is a gateway to a whole collection of skills that require real balance in addition to the technique, strength and coordination the pullup builds. There's so much more to this stuff than I ever knew.

The simple process of setting a goal and chasing it taught me about assessing and making honest allowance for my abilities. It taught me to accept what is, rather than demand what I imagine. Training means demanding improvement of myself, but injury is not an improvement, so I learned to slow down. Learning to require of myself what I can deliver, not what some book or video says I can deliver, is the greatest lesson my training program's given me to date.

Now let me remind you of the second half of this post's verse.

"... but training for godliness is much better, promising benefits in this life and in the life to come."

Godliness is hard, too, and I'm learning it's hard in more ways than I could possibly have guessed. Godliness is not just resisting temptation. There are parallels in godliness to the balance, technique, coordination, and strength in physical training. Holiness, relationship, expectation, and good works all work together to achieve the goal of godliness.

It's an odd thing to say, but physical training is opening doors to godliness I never knew existed. And my knees don't hurt any more.