Saturday, June 17, 2006

Progress and Pain

A few weeks ago, I learned a hard thing that was good for me, very good.

It was a typical Wednesday morning, and I had spent the early hours in study. Knowing I had a counseling appointment with a couple whose marriage was fast eroding, I spent a few minutes before their arrival cleaning up my office, and asking the Lord to bring something significant out of our time together.

After almost 45 minutes of watching them throw verbal darts at one another, I could stand no more and decided to take charge of the session. I began by asking them if they really wanted a healthy marriage, and was glad at their positive response. Then, I listed a few simple things they could do to start the restoration process. What puzzled me greatly was the vigor with which they began making excuses as to why they could not replace bad attitudes and habits with godly ones. Simple things like praying together, taking walks for the express purpose of talking about the good things they shared, reading one of the Gospels together – each was met with disdain, if not disgust, as though they knew better than I did that such things would never work. As I continued, the real reason came out. They just didn’t want to change. The perceived discomfort of admitting, and turning from their unrighteous ways to pursue godliness was for them much more severe than their current pain. I wanted to shout “Your marriage stinks, while mine is fantastic! And you’re telling me that what I know to be true isn’t true for you?” Maybe I should have shouted, for our time ended without any sign that they were leaving improved over how they came.

After they left, I hurried off to a lunch appointment with my good friend Bill, who also happens to be my physician. Somewhere between hearing about his kids and mine, he asked how I was feeling physically. I began explaining how I’d gained back most of the weight I had lost 2 years ago, felt winded when working in the yard, was tired most of the time, and how I just generally wasn’t running at top efficiency. So, he began asking about my nutritional choices, my lack of exercise, my general “life-balance”, and my sleeping habits. One by one all of my bad attitudes and habits were exposed. He jokingly asked if I actually wanted to feel better! Of course I did! And then, without skipping a beat, I heard myself giving Bill all the reasons and excuses why “change” just wasn’t possible right now. He was gracious, but wouldn’t let me get away with such a flimsy response, and once again coached me back into a willingness to be healthy.

As I drove away, I realized what you’re already thinking. Just like the couple with the decaying marriage, I was more willing to stay in the discomfort of unhealthy living than bear the pain of progress. Getting better didn’t seem worth it.

What undiluted foolishness we allow ourselves! How muddled is our thinking when, while declaring a desire for improvement, we sabotage real progress by listening to the soft arguments of our own laziness. And our society actually has made it easy for us to consider our unrighteous and unhealthy indulgences as comfortable, and even more, something we “deserve.” But now I’ve seen the enemy, and it is me. Once again, I’ve made the decision to get out of my own way. Next time I see Bill, I’ll have better news for him.

In my marriage, I began – on the good advice of a good brother – doing certain things that were right, treating my wife with certain kindnesses. Things like verbalizing love, cleaning up dishes, doing the unexpected as well as the expected – none of these came naturally. I had to discipline myself to do them, because they were the proper way to care for a wife. But, over time, as my wife responded with joy and love to my efforts, the things I was told to do out of duty became things I wanted to do out of enjoyment. The good result turned the “ought to” into a “get to.” I am on track to see if the same can be said in the area of my fitness, and my overall health. First, I’ll start with the “have to’s” and hope to experience results that will turn them into a set of healthy “get to’s.” And I’ll keep praying for the health of my couple. We’ll both need to focus on Jesus, and the godly results he asks of us if we’re to explode the self-managed myth that the pain of progress is a deal breaker.

Hope this helps,



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