“I will give you a new heart, and a new spirit I will put within you. And I will remove the heart of stone from your flesh and give you a heart of flesh.” —God in Ezekiel 36:26
Summer was coming, and I needed to lose some weight. During our busy spring, I had gotten in the habit of grabbing fast food and skipping the gym. Now our calendar was filling up with bathing-suit activities, and my bathing suit looked like the cardboard part of toilet paper stretched over the roll.
A friend of mine had just bought an Apple Watch and insisted it was the fitness jolt I needed. The watch woke her up every morning and pushed her to get her miles in. In one month, she had lost six pounds. This is what I needed.
But an Apple Watch was hundreds of dollars, and Mike was cynical that a fancy watch had anything to do with fitness. He has run fifteen marathons and is a firm believer that the only gear anyone needs is a good pair of shoes.
Not me, I explained. If I wanted to turn my donut-shop habit into a morning- run habit, I needed to engage my emotions. I told Mike the watch would be my carrot. When I could run a 5K in under thirty minutes, I would buy the watch. I signed up for a race a month away and vowed to run every day.
The first couple of weeks were ugly. My lungs burned when I tried to run a mile, and I had to stop and walk. My thick thighs chafed against each other. My calf muscles stayed so tight, I hobbled up the steps at night.
The 5K was getting closer, but I could still run only about two miles. To motivate me, Mike started getting up early and joining me on the trails. Running together has never worked for us. He chats, runs fast, and always chooses the long route home. He’s like the Richard Simmons of running; I’m like the Chris Farley. I started to sleep in, and he let me.
And then I had a really bad day, and to feel better, I bought the Apple Watch. Mike was out of town, and I was breathtakingly lonely. Everything was overwhelming in the way it is when hormones are probably involved. I didn’t care about commitments or running or the race. I just wanted to feel happier. In less time than it took to run a mile, ordering that watch had already lightened my mood.
I tried to run the next morning, but my right hamstring hurt too much. I stopped on the trails while other runners passed me so I could Google “hamstring pain.” Websites said I had pulled it. That sounded serious.
This was actually good news. If I was injured, I didn’t have to run the race. I knew I wouldn’t beat thirty minutes, and I already had the watch, so I dropped out.
On the morning of the 5K, Mike asked me to go for a run with him. We hadn’t talked much about the watch or the deal I had made with myself. I told him my hamstring hurt, and he pointed out it was probably just getting stronger.
We started on the trails, and this time, running was easier. My ab muscles didn’t cramp. My legs were corded with strong tendons. My lungs slowly expanded instead of gulping air. Mike and I passed other runners.
Then, suddenly, my brain cleared, like after a good sneeze. The trees looked Technicolor green, and my skin pimpled with goose bumps. Mike could hardly keep up with me. I ran up hills faster than I would have believed my thick thighs could carry me. I stopped at the top of a hill to wait for Mike and glanced at my watch. I had run exactly 3.10 miles. A 5K.
After that first endorphin rush, I became a junkie, and I started running every morning. I lost weight, yes, but I also learned about the rewards from training: lots of energy, new muscles, better sleep, and those sweet endorphins. The watch had just been a sexy distraction from all this, from what I really wanted all along.
Runners who cross the finish line will tell you it’s the muscles that carry you there, not the emotions. They will tell you that training for a race is challenging. You will feel like you can’t go any farther and that running is way harder for you than for anyone else.
But none of this is true; running is not harder for you, and you can always go farther. If you’ve done the training, you have already built the muscles and endurance you need to get to the finish line. I didn’t need to engage my emotions in running. I didn’t need an Apple Watch. I needed to get out on the trails and put one foot in front of the other. I needed to stick with the commitment, even when it was hard.
This is just like marriage. We talk about the love in marriage—about the emotion—way more than we talk about the training and work. But emotion plays tricks on you. Emotions tell you that marriage is harder for you than for anyone else. When marriage feels painful and hard, emotion tells you to go and find someone newer and more exciting, someone to make you happy. Emotion tells you to quit when marriage doesn’t feel good.
God doesn’t want you chasing emotions; He wants His training to change you. He wants to turn your flabby self-centeredness into rock-hard muscles of service. He wants to turn your weak, prideful heart into your strongest organ of generosity and compassion.
Do the hard training in His Word because with that training come the exact rewards you want. Through serving your husband, you learn to serve God. Through humbleness, your heart expands to include people who need grace. Through the true forgiveness you show your husband, you learn to forgive yourself. These are the strong muscles that carry you.
But these muscles can take you only so far. Pretty soon, when you least expect it and when you need it the very most, the Holy Spirit gives you the spiritual endorphins. These moments of God’s grace really carry you through the hard seasons. And in these miracle moments, you will realize your own weakness.
More important, you see the Technicolor love of your Savior, the love that is all over your marriage. –Excerpted from Love Rules, pp. 123-125, Copyright Concordia Publishing House, 2015