Personal Training

Their numbers are growing, this army of people. We see them more often now COVID has pushed them outdoors. Clad in cotton, spandex and microfibre, they leave their homes just as the sun stretches its fingers across the sky and take their place in pairs along the Wollongong waterfront—the eyes of one fixed on the other, their ears hungry for instruction.  

I watch them as I stroll past—the trainer giving guidance and encouragement, the client pushing their body through the motions. They squat and crunch, lift enormous weights and stretch beyond what seems natural, their faces contorting with effort yet radiating hunger for more. The transformation they’re experiencing—it seems—is worth the pain.

I’m impressed by these people. They care enough about their health to commit time and money to glean from another person’s skill and experience. Funnily, we also engage in personal training—almost every day—though we don’t often realise it.

A few months back God whispered to my heart. As I drifted up from slumber, His words echoed through me with clarity and conviction,

You are discipled by whatever you give your time and attention to.

Now that’s confronting. And thought provoking.

‘Discipled’ is a word we rarely use these days. It refers to a form of training where one person is guided by another to become a follower of their way or belief system. Sound familiar? Like personal training, discipling goes beyond merely passing on knowledge. It equips the learner to so fully embody the key aspects of the new way that their life is completely changed. Like a rhythmic dance, this discipling process is an ongoing dynamic—the teacher offers ideas through word and example and the student takes them on, allowing them to infuse and shape their lives.

So how does this happen to us?

Each day, whether we make conscious choices or roll with our fluctuating whims, we take on the role of learners. Through our senses, we absorb ideas, values and priorities from a whole range of sources. People we meet, music and books, world events and the array of internet platforms each have their part to play.

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When something catches our interest, we focus on it, opening not only our mind but our heart. If we dwell on it long enough it begins to seep into our soul, permeating our whole being and colouring the way we think and feel, the language we use and the way we relate to others. It filters the way we perceive the world and the events of our day.

How do we figure out which input has the greatest influence on who we’re becoming?

We look at what receives the largest measure of our time and attention.  

With every turn of the earth, we’re gifted with twenty-four hours of life. Most of that time is poured into the normal rhythms of eating, working and sleeping, but we still have a few hours through the week and more on weekends where we can choose what we do. In those moments, what takes first place in our list of priorities?

I wonder, if we took an honest, detailed inventory of an average week in our lives, what it would reveal about who we are, where we’re headed. If you’re anything like me, you have a clear idea of what’s important to you, but the reality of your day-to-day life often paints a different picture. Sometimes unexpected needs arise and we get waylaid from the priorities we’ve set. Other times we’re lured away by our own curiosity, or hunger for comfort, and find ourselves on a path far removed from where we truly want to be.

Those little everyday choices have more impact than we think.

Choice by choice, they accumulate and set the course of our life.  

It’s good to stop and recognize what is our primary focus. What gets us out of bed in the morning? And what is the most significant subject in our thoughts through the day—the focal point we return to whenever we can?

Who do we follow on social media and other online avenues? And what’s our motivation for following them? Are we after distraction? Entertainment? Do we crave their lifestyle and want what they have? Whatever our reason, the longer we linger over their photos and feed on their words, the more permission we give them to disciple us.

Do we really want their lifestyle and values to be reproduced in our lives? It’s worth thinking about.  

Three years and two children into our marriage, my husband and I hit a bumpy patch and needed some help to find our way through. Eager for guidance, we began a three-month marriage course with several other couples. For a girl like me who relishes deep connection, the weekly homework was the absolute highlight.

With hot drinks in hand, hubby and I would sink onto the couch, open our workbooks and pore over questions from that week’s lesson. Many times, we’d spend a good hour doing our homework. The questions weren’t the simple ‘tick-the-box, regurgitate-the-content’ kind. They were probing, the dig-deep kind that made us stop, reflect and pray over ideas that would shape the future of our relationship.  

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One lesson was a standout. The topic? Sowing and reaping. Two pictures were printed in the workbook—a sack bulging with seed and a sheaf of freshly harvested wheat—vivid reminders that the seeds we plant always produce a crop of the same kind, both in nature and in our lives. We were challenged to recognise the seeds we were sowing into the soil of our marriage and what kind of harvest they were producing, whether good or bad. From that place we could turn the dynamic around. We clarified our real desires—what we felt God wanted for our marriage—and listed what seeds we needed to sow to see those desires fulfilled. That lesson opened our eyes to some negative patterns we’d slipped into. As we prayed, we felt a new excitement and sense of vision for the way ahead. Those principles of sowing and reaping are integral to our lives now. They’ve built us into a strong team and guided our decisions—big and small—through the twenty-two years since that time.

Married or not, it’s helpful for all of us to stop and ask the question,

‘Where’s my life headed?

And how are my day-to-day choices shaping my journey?’

Just like those early risers who hurry to meet their personal trainer, we need to be intentional in where we focus our time and attention. We each have one life—a limited number of days to embrace and use well. Whichever way we choose to spend them, one thing is guaranteed—as we sow, we will surely reap.   

‘Pay careful attention, then, to how you walk—not as unwise people but as wise . . .’

Ephesians 5:15 CSB

Death…and Life

Last winter I held my father-in-law while he took his final raspy breaths. My hair hung in his face as I stroked his balding head and planted trembling, tear-drenched lips on his forehead … over and over and over. I wasn’t ready to say goodbye. He was Grandpa to our children, the first grandparent to live near enough to visit every week. We’d only had him around for four years. Surely it wasn’t time for him to go yet.

Two winters ago I almost died. Sepsis – an unknown killer that masquerades as a virus – sent me into a nasty downward spiral. Hours stretched long as weakness and pain intensified, dragging me steadily to the end of my strength. Just as I ran out of fight, the process was halted. A myriad of kind hospital staff, fervent prayers and soft, warm blankets worked together to quietly but firmly pull me back from the brink.

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Doctors told me later how close things had been. I’d almost stepped through the veil into the heavenly realms. Part of me longed to know what that was like, to enter right into the fullness and wonder of God’s presence. The other part sighed with relief. I was still here to love and care for my family. Most of all I struggled to comprehend that my life had almost ended.

Was I really that frail?

The following days in ICU taught me how very fragile I was. The littlest tasks were either impossible or left me exhausted and breathless. Reality stared me in the face: I wasn’t the strong woman I’d always imagined myself to be. In a matter of moments everything could change. Or even end.

Those old, familiar, time-worn words echoed their truth loudly in my heart, “Life is a gift.”

I’ve known the wonder – four times – of clutching a warm, wet newborn to my breast, my heart beating in sync with theirs as my eyes drank in every inch of their perfection. Such miracles.

I’ve been overwhelmed by sorrow as I cradled the beautiful, lifeless form of a precious nephew, hello and goodbye tears streaming, mingled, from my eyes. Such heartbreak.

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Each of us follows a winding path through the years we spend on earth. We can’t always see what’s around the corner. On we travel through various seasons, some of great joy and some of deep sorrow, many which seem ordinary and insignificant. Through it all one truth remains the same.

We don’t have forever.

Our life on earth is transient. The miracle of conception marks its beginning and death its end.

Somehow I lost sight of this.

Somehow I believed I had unlimited years to follow God’s plan for me. There was time, I thought, to waft off-track chasing glistening, empty bubbles, just for the sheer pleasure of it. Surely those higher pursuits could wait a while.

They can’t.

There will come a time when each of us will take our last raspy breath. None of us know exactly when that day will be. Standing in God’s presence, we’ll have opportunity to look back and reflect on the path we’ve walked. Will we have regrets? Will we be satisfied? Will we wish we could go back and do things differently?

Hindsight is a wonderful teacher. But there will come a day when it’s too late to change course. Our life on earth will have reached its end. Now is the time to pause and consider the way we’re walking through our days.

King Solomon once said, “The wisdom of the prudent is to give thought to their ways.” (Proverbs 14:8)

Prudence, better known as good sense, is not out-of-date. If we will only take time to reflect and make necessary changes, we can live a life that has no regrets. Isn’t that what we all want…really?

This life we’ve been given is a treasure indeed. Let’s not waste it.