The Idolatry of Chasing a 'Perfect' Body
3 unhealthy consequences to health obsession.
Have you ever seen one of those gym fail videos? I’ll be honest: they’re oddly mesmerizing.
There’s a particularly hilarious one dedicated to treadmill mishaps. In one of my favorites, one guy seems to be feeling great about himself. His strides are effortless. His companion, not on the treadmill, watches in admiration. All of a sudden, our confident, natural runner realizes that his machine is falling apart, piece by piece. He hangs onto the bars helplessly, observing the machine crumble around him. Then, he collapses.
It’s an amusing video because this man fails at what should be a simple task: running on a fairly slow-moving machine.
However, when it comes to Herculean displays of strength and raw athleticism, our culture is held spellbound. Health is attractive. It demonstrates the intrinsic power of the bodies with which God had blessed us. God commands us to treat our bodies well; after all, He crafted them in His image.
But there are ungodly consequences to placing too much emphasis on the physical. Here are a few:
There is a certain accomplishment in achieving your fitness goals. You’ve been working hard on that fitness program and are finally seeing the fruits of your labor. You also may start to get some attention from others who are also noticing your fitness progress. And you like it. A lot.
In our world of constant social media updates, we often view fitness-related images with arms and legs bared. Skintight clothing. Muscles bulging.
It makes sense to a degree: People are proud of their hard work. With all arguments for modesty set aside, I think that it is crucial to consider, from a biblical perspective, why we post or share these fitness achievements.
While many desire encouragement from friends to reach their goals, and others have a mission to inspire others to live healthfully, there is an underlying trap of vanity amidst these displays of fitness. We like to see ourselves looking good, and we like for others to see us looking good as well. This tendency to crave attention can quickly devolve into making our bodies our idols.
Toll on Relationships
I am a bit of a healthy eating fanatic. I’ve tried just about every “health food” out there. I love it because I find it enjoyable.
However, there have been times when I have put my healthy eating before people.
God forbid one of my family members forgets that I cannot eat pinto beans while completing day three of Whole30! I can be at a party, and there’s not a single, decently healthy side-dish in sight—aside from the depressingly predictable veggie tray. Don’t they know me at all? I guess I’ll have to starve until I get back home, I whine to myself.
When I look back on these events, the defensive side of me cries out, “Wait! Isn’t eating healthy food a good thing? Doesn’t God command us to take care of the temples of his Spirit?”
Well, yes. But if I allow myself to revisit these events with a lens of honesty, I have a few recurring thoughts: How immature. How selfish. How very unlike all of the virtues that Christ has commanded me to cultivate in my life.
I have avoided social events because I knew that nothing on the menu would fit within my meal plan. I have bemoaned friends who are in need because they have derailed my leg-day plans.
It’s in these moments that I am forced to face my true motives, which unfortunately often value the temporal rather than the eternal.
Focus on the Temporal
In the same way that we can neglect relationships because of our fitness needs, we can waste two precious resources: time and finances.
No, I am not arguing that fitness is a waste of those two things, but I am saying that too often I find myself spending more time on fitness than I do on my relationship with Christ.
I also find myself spending more of my finances on fitness and healthy food than I do on furthering Christ’s kingdom. That realization convicts me and challenges me to transform my mentality. Because even though that acai bowl tastes heavenly, it isn’t actually taking anyone to heaven.
And even though my gym membership may help me feel confident, it’s not bringing anyone to the knowledge of the Gospel.
We will never reach either physical or spiritual perfection in this lifetime. However, Christ has declared that he will be judging us in only one of the two categories.
Sure, I might slightly resemble the guy on the shoddy treadmill trying to achieve Christ’s perfection. But I’m okay with that.