I used to believe that stretching was a useless part of exercise. As an junior enlisted Soldier at Fort Drum in the 1990s, I only stretched because our Sergeants made us. In my mind, it wasn’t exercise if I couldn’t see how it made me stronger or faster. I mean, let’s be real. If I can’t feel my muscles growing or it doesn’t help me lose any weight, it can’t be all that important, right?
In the past few years, though, injuries and the aging process have begun to teach me that I don’t have the option not to stretch.
When I was commissioned as a Chaplain in 1998, I initially thought one of the perks was having a little more freedom to do PT on my own. In fact, in my first six years as an officer I was assigned to smaller posts in Virginia and Germany. There, most of the staff officers were on the honor system to do PT on our own. So I rarely stretched.
Then we moved to Fort Campbell, Kentucky. Home of the 101st Airborne Division. My physical training was about to change big time – and not by my choice.
It’s not like I was in bad shape when we moved. I was in great shape. I had just come from my first tour in Iraq where I could still choose my own lifting routine, set my own running pace, and decide how much I wanted to push myself (or not). In other words, I was good shape for doing what I wanted to do. But I hadn’t worked on flexibility at all.
When I came to the Screaming Eagles Division, my Executive Officer re-introduced me to the Division mentality I had forgotten since my time with the 10th Mountain. Can you say “Pain”? Can you say, “Somebody help me, I’m cramping up over here!”?
Army Divisions are like humungous versions of the human body. They need their parts to act powerfully and precisely to do anything that their head calls them to do ASAP. That’s a good working definition for flexibility: being able to turn on a dime, especially in the face of danger. If your body suddenly encounters danger and is not flexible, the parts of your body could easily be injured. And as you can imagine, greater danger and less flexibility increases the risks. But I was “stiff-necked” and didn’t want to turn from my preferred routines.
My experience at PT with the 101st was mixed. I loved the upper-body workouts. Because of my longtime focus on my chest and arms, I could take whatever my new boss dished out. But when it was a run day, I woke up with a knot in my stomach. I knew he would run us one of two ways: way long and moderately fast or just fairly long and crazy fast. I’d like to say that he was just unreasonable, but the truth is that I was just unprepared. I had been inflexible (or, to use that Scriptural description, “stiff-necked‟) in what I liked to do. Looking back, it’s no surprise that I sprained my ankle twice and turned my knee once in the first months of running at Fort Campbell.
I remember exactly when I began to re-evaluate my opinion of warming up. We were on a 5 mile run in low visibility and I didn’t see a pothole in front of me. Suddenly, the ground disappeared me and – since I tend to run on the outside of my feet – all of my weight came down on the outside of my ankle. Problem! I had never conditioned my legs to respond to sudden changes with flexibility.
Warming my muscles to be more pliable was never a priority with me, but it is now. And this is not just a physical truth. It’s a spiritual truth. Life is full of sudden spiritual dangers and demands on the Body of Christ. So we must be ready at a moment’s notice to respond whenever and wherever our Head calls His Body to turn. And since every human being is a spiritual person with a natural “stiff-neck‟ to go their own way, I submit to you that there is always spiritual danger in you and around you (1 Peter 5:8).
How dangerous are some of your situations? In what directions is the Lord Jesus calling you to turn as the Head of His Body? To prayer? To Scripture? To fellowship with specific believers He has placed in your life? I had never really thought of Scripture’s warning against being stiff-necked until I began to study the parallels between physical and spiritual life. Flexibility is crucial, isn’t it?
In fact, real and lasting change comes first by flexibility, not by “growth‟. If you think about it, growth is just gaining more of what we already have. And that’s not necessarily a good thing. Cancer is a growth that takes over your body. Put another way, doing more of what we’re already doing is like walking faster and stomping harder in the same circle. That just creates a deeper rut! To truly grow, we need to do something different. This is why the most successful exercise routines involve muscle confusion: always keeping your body slightly surprised.
It shouldn’t surprise us that one of the Hebrew words for repentance “שוב” (shuv) means “to re-turn“. Or, as we say in the military, “About Face!”. It’s a 180 degree flex from self-focus on our desires and ways to Christ-focus and His desires and ways. This requires flexibility of the heart. The new soft heart that God promises to His people.
How might you become more aware and meditate on flexibility? From what and to Whom do you need to turn? And when you turn to Jesus, what will you find? The answers are as many as His many good promises, aspects of His perfect character and good plans for your future in Him.
For more on this subject, search the key word “flexibility” on the tools4trenches website. You’ll find additional Scriptures for your meditation, suggested exercises and Christian music videos. May the Lord Jesus bless you as you seek to exercise your whole being in the Body of Christ.
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