Spiritual Training Cycle: Examination (wk. 13/13)
Every so often, I am the fastest person in the gym… at least for the first 30 seconds or so. When that happens, I spend the rest of the workout struggling to breathe and getting very little exercise done. We call this red lining out of the gate. It is what happens when our ego takes over. And it hurts and ruins our performance. There is another option, though. We call it flow.
Flow is when effort meets demand. If the demand of a workout is too high, we’ll exhaust ourselves too soon. If the effort is higher than the demand, we’ll underperform and feel dissatisfied. You wouldn’t run a 40-yard dash at the same pace you’d run 3 miles. Flow is matching the pace (effort) to the workout (demand). Flow is the optimal way to do a workout. It is flexible, sustainable, and effective. It’s a good place to be. But a hard one to stay in.
Flow is difficult because it requires self-control. Self-control is tricky, because you’re in control. The question is, which version of you? Is it the ‘motivated, ready to win you’ or is it the ‘I need donuts you’? Staying in the flow requires that things like our egos, appetites, pride, and angst all take a back seat. Sometimes it requires going slow when everyone else is speeding up. Other times it means eating healthy or skipping a night out.
Flow is a good place to be outside of the gym, also. Flow in our relationships makes them more fruitful, flow at work feels productive and meaningful, and flow at home is that balance of neat and lived-in.
When we talk about flow spiritually, we are talking about being in sync with the Spirit of God. In the flow, you are immersed in the love, presence, and desire of God. And you are experiencing the fruits of the connection, things like love, joy, and peace. It is the life we all desire because it is the life we were made for. It is a life of thriving wholeness. This is what the Hebrews call shalom. And self-control is where we find it.
Take a look at Proverbs 25:26-28. Proverbs is a book full of wisdom wrapped in riddles. It’s sticky wisdom. In these verses, Solomon gives us three pictures of ruined shalom - a muddy spring, too many sweets, and a city with no protection. What ruined them? A lack of self-control. It takes self-control to keep trash from polluting your water source. It takes self-control to keep from getting a stomachache or diabetes from too much sugar. You must stay committed to maintaining the wall around your city.
For a lot of us, including me, I think of self-control as the things I’m saying “no” to. In reality, self-control is all about what you’re saying “yes” to. I say “no” to French fries because I’m saying ‘yes’ to one day getting a muscle up or running a personal best in the mile. In the same way, there are areas of my life, far more important than fitness goals, that I really want to see thrive. So, I’m practicing self-control in:
Real Relationships: We live in a fractured world, and relationships are often what gets broken. Things like porn and social media give us this picture that relationships can be effortless and on my terms. When I say “no” to porn, I’m saying yes to real relationships – that are far more complicated but infinitely more fulfilling. Self-control leads me to deeper, more satisfying relationships.
My Own Significance: I learned early on that putting others down is an easy way to make myself feel built up. Not an effective way and certainly not a healthy way, but a way. This lesson has followed me into relationships, work, family, and of course the gym. But talking trashing, spilling the tea, or judging others will never give me the significance I’m looking for. Only God can do that. Putting others down only pushes me farther away from God’s voice telling me that ‘I’m enough.’ Self-control keeps me close to the words of the Father.
Finding Peace: There is this poisonous belief that the only way to get peace is to get even. This is why so many of us walk around with grudges. We believe that instead of forgiveness, grudges offer us the most peace and protection. God doesn’t see it that way. He knows that releasing (forgiveness means releasing) those hurts and wrongs will give us true peace – real shalom. Forgiveness doesn’t mean returning to unsafe situations and people. It means letting go, so that you can move on to what God has for you. Self-control keeps me looking forward at what God is giving me, instead of looking backward at what people have taken from me.
Self-control keeps us in the flow, both in the gym and spiritually. We’re saying “no” to our egos and appetites so that we can say “yes” to real peace and true shalom. Self-control is a better journey to a better destination.
Questions for Reflection:
Where in your life are you experiencing increasing shalom? How has self-control aided in that?
Loneliness, anger, and fatigue are major spoilers of our self-control. Which are you most susceptible to?
How have you noticed God’s grace in your practice of self-control?