My trainer reminds me when we work out that I can’t outrun my fork. Here’s what he means by that. I can’t work out hard enough or long enough to make up for my poor nutrition choices. I can’t eat a donut and say to myself, “I’ll work this off later at the gym.” Our bodies don’t work that way. Sugars get stored, fats get layered in, and sometimes, these are the last fuels used to power a workout.
Walking around the wilderness in our pre-historic tribes meant we were always worried about starving to death. So, our bodies learned how to hold on to calories for as long as possible. That’s why, after an hour on the treadmill, you’ll check your feedback panel and realize you’ve worked off about 200 calories.
Congratulations! You’ve worked off a couple of potato chips.
This is why you can get out of shape so fast and why it takes so long to get healthy again.
A healthy body, healthy weight loss, and maintenance is accomplished through a process combining diet and exercise – about 20% exercise and 80% diet. If I’m going to lose weight and live as healthily as I want, I’m going to have to spend a lot more time paying attention to what I eat and when I eat.
What if our souls are the same way? What if nutrition, what we feed our souls, is more important to our spiritual health than we ever realized? Are our souls, like our bodies, more the result of our spiritual nutrition than our spiritual exercises? The classic joke is that when you sin, go say, “ten Hail Marys”. All of us think the same way. If we do something wrong, then we need to do some kind of penance, some kind of service to others, to work out our wrong choices.
But our souls don’t work that way. Poor soul nutrition does damage exercise can’t repair. Watching porn and extreme violence changes our soul’s ability to love. Feasting on anger and grudges embitters our soul to the point that we can no longer celebrate joy with anyone about anything.
I started thinking about this after I heard several of my friends tell me the same thing. Each of them said they had stopped watching the news since the pandemic started. These guys are movers and shakers, people you would consider to be “in the know”. Yet, each one of them confessed, that for the sake of their own mental health, they had stopped watching the news.
The consumption of news had made them depressed and irritable, so they had turned the news off and started watching movies and documentaries. As a result, not only are they in better moods, but they have a lot of interesting things to talk about over lunch.
Their example is worth thinking about. In order to improve our soul health, we have to take control over what goes into our souls. When Daniel is taken to Babylon, the first request he makes is for another diet. He doesn’t want to eat the rich food from the king’s table. It was more than that. Daniel wanted, as much as possible in Babylon, to remain obedient to the dietary laws of his faith. While he was a captive and couldn’t control much of his life, the one thing he could control was what went inside of his body.
Paul reminds the Philippians, “Finally brothers and sisters, whatever is true, whatever is honorable, whatever is just, whatever is pure, whatever is lovely, whatever is commendable—if there is any moral excellence and if there is anything praiseworthy—dwell on these things” (Philippians 4:8).
While we can’t control a lot of things in our lives right now due to the pandemic, we can control what we think about. This matters. What we think about becomes what we desire, and what we desire becomes what we do, and what we do becomes who we are.
Now, I know what some of you are saying, “Mike, I can’t control my thoughts. I’ll just be sitting there and a thought pops into my head.”
True. We may not be able to control our thoughts, but we can control our focus. You may not be able to stop the initial thought, but you can control how long that thought captures your attention. How? By turning your focus to something beautiful, pure, lovely — just as Paul taught.
The second step in this process is to be more intentional about what we feed our souls. This is why Scripture reading is so critical to the life of the serious believer. There are a lot of great books in the world, but none of them replace the Scriptures in the life of a believer. We study Scripture. We memorize Scripture. We talk about Scripture. It’s the center of our lives, the compass of our journey, and the substance of our soul’s nutrition.
A healthy life doesn’t just happen. It’s the sum of countless decisions made every day. It’s the same with a soulful life. It’s not a spiritual accident. A soulful life is the result of countless decisions made every day of what acquires our attention and what we daily feed our soul.
A malnourished life can’t live life to its fullest.
Neither can a malnourished soul.