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  • John Howard

Priorities

Do you have something that you are really attached to? So much so that it interferes with you doing things that mean you have to go without it? So much that it borders on an addiction? I have one: it’s working out.


It started when I was in Junior High. My dad saw my interest and bought me some weights which I started using avidly. Once, when I was going to scout camp for a week, I put them in my duffle bag along with my other gear. I was the one who loaded it into our station wagon but, at camp, my dad (who was my scoutmaster) reached into the back of the car to pull it out. After being astonished at how heavy it was, he said “My gosh, John, what do you have in there!” I told him it was just my weights because I didn’t want to miss any workouts. He loved telling that story for the rest of his life.


When I got into high school I added running to my obsession. I had a girlfriend who lived a couple of miles away and I would sometimes run to her house (because I wasn’t allowed to use the family car). I would arrive all sweaty to say “hi”, hang out for a little while, and then run back home. She may not have been impressed. The Marine Corps definitely amplified my running because you are expected to train constantly. When I was about 30, I started my marathon phase. I trained by running 10 miles a day Monday through Friday, 20 miles on Saturday, and resting on Sunday. I ran marathons for three years. (At one point, I did a 50 mile run - which I don’t recommend.) At the end of the three years, I achieved my goal of a 3.5 hour marathon during a Marine Corps Marathon. After that, I couldn’t motivate myself to continue the heavy training. So I cut back my running gradually until I was running a “mere” 15 miles a week. Running ended when I was 68 when the pain in my right foot and ankle got too bad. I went to the doctor to get it fixed and he said “stop running”.


But weight lifting has never stopped being a passion. In my heyday, I won a Marine Corps powerlifting contest in the unlimited weight class at the base where I was stationed. A few years ago, for my 65th birthday, I went down to Club Paradise and, with my son, Bill spotting and witnessing, I bench pressed 315 pounds. Really, though, it has never been about competing for me, it’s just something I really, really enjoy. So much so that my travel decisions involve researching what will be available for working out. If a hotel or resort doesn’t have a least a decent multi-station weight machine, I probably won’t stay there.


Whether I will have to miss a workout figures into every decision and I’m resentful if something comes up that forces me to. The technical term is “gym rat”.

When does an obsession like this become unhealthy? After all, there are many benefits to working out. Turns out, the problem is priorities. I started to get a hint of this in my late forties. In prayer, it seemed that the Lord was leading me to some kind of foreign missionary service. That can involve various hardships. That shouldn’t have been a problem because my 26 years in the Marine Corps taught me how to endure austere living. But I found myself begging God not to send me anywhere where I wouldn’t have access to a decent gym. Graciously, the Lord had mercy on my silly sticking point and put me into Mexico ministry. There I only need to miss three workouts for a week-long trip. But it was clear to me that my priorities were not straight.


About a week ago, I had an operation to reconstruct that foot and ankle I mentioned earlier. I’m not supposed to put any weight on it for at least 6 weeks. This seems like good timing since most things are shut down because of COVID-19, right? But then Gov. Newsom ordered the gyms to close! What the heck? I had figured out how to modify my workout to deal with the immobilized foot and I was going back this week! I was mad and sad. How about you? What are you missing while you “shelter in place”? I’m not talking about food, shelter, and clothes (which I assume you all have), I’m talking about something you place, maybe, too much emphasis on - like I do working out. Does it say something about your priorities? Maybe we can learn something about ourselves in this. I read through Matthew 6:25-34 and I am almost ashamed by the level of importance I put on working out. I will keep doing it but, from now on, I’ll try to do a better job of not obsessing over it and instead seeking first the kingdom of God.


John Howard

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