Valentine’s Day – what we can learn from athletes about facing relationships fears

I’ve heard several friends lately talk about fear in relationships, and the damage that lack of their resolution can cause. Fears from exes who kept secrets, fear of commitment, fear that God won’t bring them the type person they pray for. These hold so much power that they can lead to sabotage and keep people from the exact dream for which they’ve been longing. For most, that means marriage and family.

Then, the other morning while I was at the gym, I read an article in Oxygen magazine about Olympic athletes, and realized that the parallels between overcoming physical and emotional fears are vast.

Relationships and dealing with fear are some of the most common topics I hear with girlfriends. So, what can we learn from athletes about successful relationships on this Valentine’s Day which is taking place during the Olympic games??…..

I’ll use a few key points from writer Karla Dial and  in this article to guide us:

1. Keep the Faith

  • Multiple Olympic athletes have suffered devastating injuries, and come back from them. Their mental attitude to push past it, “is what separates winners from everyone else” (91). Athletes who have a goal in mind will recognize an injury for the delay and grief that it is, but stay determined to rehabilitate and come back. If their pain can be overcome, so can our emotional pain.
  • A broken engagement, divorce, lying significant other, etc, does not mean that every other relationship will bring the same experience. Still, the brokenness does need to fully heal and be given time to come back to full strength. A broken bone will not remain weak forever if it properly set and protected. Often, with time, it returns to good as new.
  • I believe God can heal our hearts in the same way if we’re willing to put in the time, rest, and intentionality to be restored so we can experience relationships in a fresh new way without an injury weakening the new person we become. In other words, no “new wine in old wine skins” (Mark 2:22).

2.Know Your Identity

The loss or lack of a relationship is not your identity.”Anytime there’s a traumatic event, the first thing that gets attacked is the sense of identity…for athletes it’s so tied to their physical being that it can threaten all their dreams” ( Howard Falco, 91).

  • Especially for women, a broken relationship or wounds from men can threaten our identities, just like an injury for athletes. When a person hurts someone out of what is probably their own pain and fears, it creates an identity of “I’m not good enough. Something’s wrong me with me. I’m not pretty or desirable. I’m never going to find someone who loves me.” I talked to a girlfriend recently who told me about a guy who, in his fear, began to speak things over  her about what she was not in a subconscious attempt to justify his fears. But because she has a solid identity in Christ and as a woman, she refused to let his words take any root.
  • We cannot get our identity from relationships, and must speak life about who we are and who God says we are. Like Olympians, “The time frame of healing is impacted by their outlook, their state of mind and their optimism” (Falco, 92). Determined to “compete again” and defy what even others say is “normal”? Healing comes more speedily with the right words and perception of what is possible.

3. Understand injury, harness fears, train to prevent, and adjust to do better than before.

  • “Instead of focusing on [re-injuring yourself], hone in on the present and what you’re doing to prevent that from happening” (Shaw Bronner, 92). I hear a lot of the same mistakes and hurts over and over in relationships. If there’s a pattern of the same type of guy or girl, or same reasons for break-ups or misunderstandings, maybe your “training method” is off. If there’s a fear that God will never bring the amazing guy you’ve dreamt of because all you meet are jerks, it may be time to focus on preventing on future injury by adjusting the training and honing your skills. 
  • Meaning, if you keep meeting guys in bars, getting physical right away, and then stop hearing from them, consider where you’re going to meet people, who you give your number to, and setting some physical boundaries. Or if you want a godly man, but only respond to eHarmony requests from guys who have not one word about a relationship with God on their profile, rethink even starting the conversation with them.

4. Watch and Learn from Others

  • I’d guess most athletes have motivational music, posters, videos of others who inspire and remind them of what’s possible.Observation is an important part of renewal because seeing the examples of correct and incorrect form assist in the re-education process” (Bronner, 95). When you’re not in a relationship is the perfect time to train and perfect your skills.  Most of the wisdom I’ve learned about relationships came from many, many years of being single and watching healthy marriages. If we want good relationships, it is smart to observe those in the position we hope to one day be in.
  • My boyfriend has some of the most amazing foresight and wisdom about how to approach and build a healthy relationship that will set up a good marriage. He’s learned from spending years with married couples, asking questions, and gleaning from their lessons and examples. While we’re waiting, we can ask those who are ahead of us how to plan, prepare, and what we may not even be thinking we need to do that could actually be hurting us or  could set us up for great success. Surround yourselves with others who have relationships that you admire.

5. The Power of the Mind

  • “When you are aligned with the truth and belief in that power, you’re in the strongest place possible” (Falco, 95). Yes ladies, there are men who don’t struggle with porn, who tell you your beautiful regularly, who want to protect your purity, and who can commit forever. Men, there are women who want your best, who want to support you, who won’t cheat, and who will respect you. But we have to align ourselves with that truth, and we have to fight for that alignment, it won’t come without practice and purposeful reminders.

Then, with all of this planning, observing, and truth, we can face our fears like Olympian Lindsey Vonn and say, “Don’t worry, guys, this is only a temporary set-back. Nothing will keep me from picking myself back up and continuing to fight for my dreams.”

Moving from New Year’s Goals to Tomorrow’s Success

I read a lot of fitness magazines, and see images of athletic women with crazy amazing bodies. These women are slim, muscular and in great health because of the what they consume, supplements they take, and dedication they put into weights and endurance. I can see the results of their hard work, hear their stories of dedication and clean eating, and it inspires me.

I watched a documentary on Lolo (the olympic runner) the other day, and had the same reaction: “That’s badass. I want to be like that.” With the Olympics coming up, I would bet many of us will be having those same reactions to the physical feats we watch in awe.

If all we do is feel inspired, however, but never make an effort to emulate the traits we admire to reach the goals we dream of, it’s of little benefit. When I’m working out, if I watch TV or listen to slower tempo music, I get exercise, but don’t reap as many rewards as possible. I’ve noticed that when I workout, if I listen to music with fast tempos and motivational beats, the kind that just make you want to move, or strikes an emotional chord, I workout harder. I run faster. I push longer. Beast Mode.

It turns something on in me in an unexplainable way. When  this happens, I realize as helpful as it is to watch Access  Hollywood to pass the time, I workout about twice as hard   when I just keep the most inspiring music in my ears. When Lolo came to mind as I ran on the treadmill the other day, causing me to pick up my pace, it struck me that these types of motivations and goals work similarly in my spiritual life.

I’m in a major season of transition, and it is not easy. I feel  God calling me to leave things behind that I never expected to, in order to pursue even more. It’s as painful as running sprints or squatting with a heavily loaded barbell. Well, much more painful, actually. Like the future image of a body and health I’d like to achieve, but can only dream about because I haven’t arrived, I’m headed to a destination that I’m not even sure what it holds. I just have faith that it too will look and feel good.

But this ideal place I’m headed does not come easy. A hunger to go deeper with God doesn’t just create an amazing Spirit-filled life. Moving into “destiny”, as cliche as that is, doesn’t come without opposition and critics. Change and new identity doesn’t happen without sacrifice.

To keep moving forward, we have to fuel our faith. We have to feed that hunger for God. An Olympic sprinter like Lolo, or a bodybuilder like Arnold, probably doesn’t jog 2 laps for a workout, lift light weight, eat junk food, or hang out with the Monday night football crowd or pie-eating contest winners. They probably hang out with other athletes, listen to motivational videos, watch their idols win competitions, keep only whole foods in their fridge, and push their limits in every workout. They didn’t just arrive at champion status.

We can’t either. When I listen to certain sermons, worship, and spend time with certain people, it fuels my spiritual fire. It pushes me to keep striving for that goal that seems unattainable – almost mystical – and leave the old behind. When I set my eyes and heart elsewhere, focus on the past, or spend time with people who discourage more than encourage, it throws everything off balance. It’s like watching TV at the gym, and then going to eat a burger, indulging in what seems good, but leaves you lacking.

“Whoever walks with the wise becomes wise, but the companion of fools will suffer harm. Disaster pursues sinners, but the righteous are rewarded with good” (Proverbs 13:20 20.) I used to think of the wise as people who know God and fools as the partyers or some crazy immature crowd of people. I’m learning that even Christians can operate only in worldly wisdom and not truly spur each other on it faith. Or simply, in certain seasons, some people are better to surround ourselves with.

It’s not necessarily as black and white as I thought. I’ve had to shift priorities and let go of certain atmospheres or crowds that are not bad at all, but are just not what I need in this season to truly push me forward. It has been as challenging as switching from soda to water for the good of one’s best health. Not easy, rarely as tasty until you’re used to it, but ultimately for the best.

I always thought it was ridiculous that some parents would only let their kids listen to Christian music or watch only Touched by an Angel, or Veggie Tales. Actually, I still think that’s ridiculous, but I get the idea. What we let into our mind and lives shapes us, probably far more than we consciously realize. The movies I watch, music I listen to, and places I spend my time in this season can completely shift my mindset or throw me off balance.

Like the soda and water example, a soda won’t ruin your workout goals once in a while. But drinking it every day will completely derail the desired outcome. It’s usually the subtle things like that we think are innocent that are what’s actually preventing us from our best.

It’s  a new year. A new season. What are your goals? Establish them. Know the purpose and motivation for getting there. Ask God to help you push through the “hard workouts” and to discern what will be the tipping points from average to amazing. Then stand firm, and watch as the hard work pays off and paves the way to success and joy!


Working out and Follwing Jesus – Part 4: the Truth of the Matter

June 24th, 2009

I got sucked into working out with the Fitness Manager at my 24 Hour Fitness today. I walked in, stopped at the front desk to have my card scanned as usual, and he stopped to ask what I had planned for my workout that day. Now, they have a pretty friendly staff at my gym, but I kinda had a feeling that he wasn’t just asking to be nice. I used to have his job, I know how it works. This is how you sell training.

A few minutes later I’d agreed to let him give me a workout (meaning, convince me how badly I need training from him for an hour, then back it up with a 25 minute workout). But I was feeling lazy and unmotivated that day, and knew I could use the push. I’ve also been asking God for opportunities to meet people at the gym, at the store, in my neighborhood, etc., to build relationships and reach those who don’t yet have a relationship with Jesus. I figured this was an open door, so I took it.

For slightly less than an hour, we talked about my goals, my current workout, my nutrition, etc. I already knew about 90% of what he said, and had preached the same message to others multiple times. I nodded along and agreed with just about everything that came out of his mouth. And I admitted how I knew exactly what I needed to do but often didn’t do it.

Finally we worked out for a bit, wearing out my legs and figuring out some of my knee problems. We got along great, had some laughs, and I sweated like crazy. It was a good time. And then of course we sat back down so he could tell me how much training would cost, how he’d like to help me, how we’d work well together, etc. Again, I agreed with all that he said. I was a personal trainer, so of course I know and appreciate the value. In fact, I wouldn’t mind having a trainer to push me – if they weren’t so dang expensive!

I thanked him for his time, said I’d think about it (terrible thing to hear when you’re on his side of the desk), and finished up with some cardio on my own.

Maybe it was my need to people-please and have people like me; or my desire to get more opportunities to talk about God with him (there were some brief ones when we got to the money thing); or maybe the combination of that plus my own guilt of knowing I’ve been slacking in the gym….but the whole way home and the rest of the night, I went back and forth on the idea of purchasing training. The whole scenario was in my mind and I couldn’t get it out…still can’t.

As I drove I pondered why this was sticking in my brain so much. Why I felt like I should buy training, when the whole time I was thinking ‘oh gosh, don’t try to sell me, I’m not buying, leave me alone’. Partially, he was a great guy, not a completely annoying salesman. And he gave me a good workout. Yet he told me nothing revolutionary, and the workout was nothing I couldn’t have imagined up on my own if I’d tried. If I essentially knew almost everything he said and showed me, why was I actually feeling a little guilty and wondering if I should buy training? I’m practically immune to salesmen, I can’t stand them. I almost never succumb unless I already know I need what they have to sell.

The answer, I concluded, was that even though I already knew everything he said, and knew what I should be doing, he called me out. He pointed out every area that I wasn’t doing what I knew what to do and put into words the thoughts I’d been pushing to the side. He brought my weakness to light and exposed my faulty thinking and behavior. It was fine when I knew it, but didn’t have to acknowledge it or be accountable to anyone else. I could deceive myself, I could rationalize away my bad decisions. All along I knew where I was making mistakes and deceiving myself. But as soon as someone else saw it and spoke it out loud, it became much more real and weighty.

I thought about going back to the gym every day in the future, aware that I was no longer just another face in the gym. Now there’s someone who knows what I’m doing and not doing. It’s like he’s keeping me accountable just by being there and seeing me. Like I can’t hide anymore. There was a moment of temptation to avoid him at the gym and not want him to see me there anymore – to ‘runaway’ in a sense. That cleared pretty quickly because I’m not that much of a wuss. But next came the clarity that I have to own up to this. Whether it’s buying training to fix the problem, or simply admitting to myself that I need to step it up and the committing to discipline and good choices (to ‘prove him wrong’).

Then I noticed the parallel between my gym experience and physical conundrum, and the spiritual one of telling people about Christ. People hate being told what they’re doing is wrong. Often, they run away (happens all the time with ministry in Hollywood. Literally, they run away and book it in the opposite direction of us as soon as we say ‘Christian’ or ‘bible’ or ‘Jesus’.) And it’s frustrating, to tell you the truth. I think “when is anyone ever going to get this? Or accept it? Or acknowledge their brokenness?”

And it made me think that the manager who just spent 1.5 hours with me probably saw a similar picture in front of him. Stubbornness, self-assurance, arrogance even. (which is when I realized I should probably apologize for coming off that way next time we talk!) But inside my mind was reeling after we talked.

Those people we talk to about Christ have probably, at some point in their lives or even on a daily basis, considered their purpose, their existence, their lack of hope, their brokenness. And asked questions and dismissed God and come up with faulty logic and theology. But left unchallenged, they can keep lying to themselves and live a life that contradicts what they really know deep down. When someone calls that out and brings it to life, it shakes them up and makes them uncomfortable because they’ll have to face the lies they’ve been hiding behind and the truth they’ve been stifling. Some will push it down further and further until they hide it enough to go on living as they’ve been living – until someone else down the road brings it up again. Others might try to push it away, but will be left with that nagging feeling and finding themselves facing truth and decisions to make about it. And we may never know which they are, because the outward appearance is deceiving.

Maybe these are some of the people that keep hanging out, non-committal and unemotional, but lingering just enough to hear a little bit more truth so they can work through their questions. Maybe they need some time to count the cost, just like I have to with training (of course, it’s a little different with the physical because that ‘cost’ is about me, when really I could use that money for someone else). But to tease out my analogy – I was left counting the cost of doing what I knew I needed to do. Either spending the money to have someone else keep me accountable, or to step up my own training and nutrition to live what I have been believing but not actually living out 100%.

And if a person buys training, they usually don’t just jump into that. You have to weigh if it’s really worth it. Because if you don’t commit, it’s a waste. To make it worth it, you truly have to commit and change the way you’ve been living. And you know that if you commit, it will all be worth it. It’s hard work, but you’ll get results.

Same with choosing Christ. You don’t just jump in lightly to that decision. Because when you do it changes the way you’ve been living, do live, and will live, forever. You have to commit to something radically different. And according to the bible, being lukewarm about it is not an option. But when you do commit, you know you all of the sacrifices will be worth it.

So oddly enough, my one evening of working out with a trainer at the gym opened my eyes to see a bit more of what it’s like for those who are weighing the option of Christ. He’s been my only option for most o
f my life, so I don’t always understand. Now I know I need a bit more patience, understanding, and willingness to provide facts and reason and truth over and over. Like the trainers at the gym, I need to live in a way that holds other accountable to the lies they’re living, without having to say anything. As a good trainer who practices what he preaches demonstrates through his appearance and physical abilities that the hard work and following the truth gets results -I have to live my own life in a way that proves that the cost is completely worth it.

And eventually, we either all deny the truth and go our own way, or we realize that facing the truth will lead us exactly where we want to be