Spring is springing here in Yakima. We aren't in the full-on orchard blooming phase, but rather the cold in the morning, warm and windy in the afternoon phase. But soon, the afternoons will be glorious and the world alive with new life.
It makes me want to get out there and run. I haven't had that hankering for quite sometime, seeing as the 2007 marathon was a bit of a running overdose for this former fake-an-injury-to-get-out-of-running girl. I was thinking about running recently within the context of cross-training. Should I strap on my new snazzy Asics, it would just be in addition to the other exercise I already enjoy -- weightlifting and step aerobics and the playing Michael Jackson Experience on the Wii. Running has specific benefits that can't be gleaned from scoring in the 9000's on Thriller or Wanna Be Starting Something, and if I want those specific benefits, I have to engage in that activity. Of course, there are other things that will help me run better -- lower body lifting and ab training -- but, in the end, I just need to get out and run.
Over the last couple months, Jesus has really be challenging me in some specific heart areas and, if you read the previous blog, you know I did some fasting in February. Well, now March is here and the "results" of that time weren't exactly what I expected. (That's a story for another blog, I suppose.) At any rate, I got to thinking about fasting within the scope of spiritual disciplines and how it doesn't get practiced very regularly, even though it is in Jesus' Sermon on the Mount as one of the three presumed disciplines of faith: prayer, giving, and fasting. Sure, we know we should pray and read our Bibles and go to church, but the more I've thought about it, though, the more I think fasting is a valuable component of spiritual cross-training. (Just for clarification, when I say fasting, I mean not eating. I don't mean giving up coffee or avoiding sugar or not playing Angry Birds.)
I know from experience that it takes challenge to grow physically. If I want to run a faster mile, I have to actually do some sprint workouts. If I want to have stronger muscles, I have to challenge them by lifting more weight. Could that not also be true spiritually? I know I have gone through many blase seasons in my faith and my private Christian life becomes routine and boring. I do the same things and just keep moving forward but it feels so routine. I'm not saying God doesn't use the routine and mundane seasons in our lives for good things, but I'm wondering if there couldn't be more freedom, more breakthrough, more intimacy with Jesus if I would incorporate fasting into how I worship Him.
The other thought I've had along the lines of fasting and cross-training is the possible connection it might have to the virtue of self-control. I have been reading Louisa May Alcott's book Little Men (the sequel to Little Women), and in it, Jo and Freidrich run a school for boys. One of them is nicknamed Stuffy because he stuffs his face and is rather portly. One year at Christmas, Jo is discussing with the boys what sorts of character qualities they want to cultivate in the coming year. Some boys choose generosity or patience or kindness (all of which are character qualities often recognized as valuable in today's world, at least according to the Yakima School District's Character Quality of the Month list). However, Stuffy can't think of one, and so Freidrich suggests cultivating self-denial so that Stuffy won't make himself sick next Christmas.
I got to thinking about that: self-denial as a character quality. That one didn't make the school's top 12, and I doubt many people would list it as something worth cultivating. It wasn't on my radar, at least not by that name. I do know, however, that I want to exert more self-control in certain areas; the thought came to me that practicing self-denial would be like cross-training for the self-control muscle. To use weight-lifting as a metaphor, hammer curls and bicep curls work the same muscle but in different ways, and for me, bicep curls are more difficult. Sometimes I skip them because they are hard, but if I were not only to incorporate them but challenge myself in those curls, would not the other bicep exercises be easier? If I were to practice self-denial (fasting) in a regular way (not haphazardly), could I not hope that other spiritual disciplines would be strengthened?
These are all questions at this point because I'm on the front end of this journey. (Interesting that I'm teaching on "Keeping Your Prayer Life Fresh" in just a few weeks. I think these thoughts will be in there.) What do you guys think?