Tuesday, January 7, 2014

Bye... the numbers

In my first pastorate, we talked about numbers a lot.  We were a small church with big budget worries.  So, we talked about numbers as if they were a matter of life and death.  In retrospect, I should've helped them imagine something better... and sooner.  But one day, I realized numbers were all we were talking about.  I preached a sermon about how the life of a church couldn't be measured by bottom line numbers that couldn't tell the whole story of what a church was doing or about. Long before I ever started this journey of health with any seriousness, here's what I said.

"Here is why I’m asking you to stop looking at the numbers for a while. I wish I could have found a better illustration, but I couldn’t...so here goes.   When I stand on the scale, I find out that I am obese.  I weigh too much for how tall I am-- or at least that’s what the numbers say.  But the numbers do not tell you that I have successfully completed a triathlon.  They do not tell you that I am quite strong and that I can lift more than can many women. The numbers on the scale do not tell you that my cholesterol and triglycerides are “beautifully low” as the doctor said, or that my blood pressure is on the low end of normal.  In other words, the doctors tell me that I’m healthy, even though the number on the scale would tell you that I’m a health problem waiting to happen."

Of course, I said that when I was probably near my heaviest-- and before I was even starting to understand what it means to feel "good."  I couldn't disagree more with the statement that I was healthy, but I guess I was in a "there's-nothing-exactly-wrong-with-you" clinical definition.  Yet, my point was valid I think-- not just for the church, but for living.  Numbers can't always tell the whole story, and are not always the best measure of success. 

When I first started working with He-who-trains, he made a rule.  (It was the first of many.) I was only to weigh once a month.  It was hard not to peek, but the weight was coming off quickly, and I knew I was losing.  But when I hit the nasty plateau, He-who-trains began having me weigh every day so he could change some things in my diet and exercise routines.  He needed more feedback than once a month. Somewhere in there, my attitude began to change, and once a day turned into a weigh-in and weigh-out.  Then it was 4 or 5 times a day: after eating, after working out, after my body did what it was supposed to do. I did it, I think, in the name of "research."  I wanted to know what affected my body and how.  I wasn't ever obsessed to the point of being concerned with ounces, but when trends started showing that I was indeed gaining weight, I got grouchy.  When the graph didn't take a downward slope for a while, I became a negative Nelly.

In hindsight, I probably shouldn't have sent He-who-trains a text asking what the heck was up with my body that I had gained seven pounds in less than two weeks for none of the obvious or usual reasons. (In my defense, I did first check to see if a cat was standing on the scale with me.  Hey... it's happened before. No cat.)  I got an ear full.  After thinking about it, I deserved it.  I know better than to get so focused on a number, especially one that is affected by so. many. things. (Ask me.  I can give you a long list.) I am smart enough to know that I'm in this for the long haul, not just to see quick results.

As I thought I began to wonder if the number really matters at all.  What if I didn't know how much I weigh at any given time? Would my nerdy, likes-to-track-things self explode if I couldn't watch the patterns? Or would I just be free to focus on eating well and exercising hard without worrying about what the scale said?

I think I'm going back to the once a month weigh-in.  I'm going to do what I should've been doing all along: looking in the mirror, and paying attention.  I'm going to listen to fellow gym-goers who notice my progress, and church members who compliment me.  I'm going to believe my clothes when they offer feedback.  I'm going to trust my hard work.

I'm going to let my success be determined by more than a number.