One of the greatest struggles of my life is figuring out how to motivate myself to exercise. I don’t. I am in my late thirties and I have gained 75 pounds from when I was a fit 18 year old just graduating from high school. Back then, I played all the time. It came easy to me for two reasons: 1. I played on the high school football team; 2. I simply loved playing sports. I was often out running around and playing with friends. Whether it was basketball, riding my bike, volleyball, or whatever other physical activity I could find, I didn’t tell myself to exercise, I simply naturally was active all the time. As a child, it was common for me to spend hours playing backyard football with my friends. I recall being totally exhausted and barely able to breath, and then lining up for the next play to try to score the next big touchdown. It was a regular part of my life. Children have a natural ability to play hard and love life that adults seem to completely lack.
We live in Michigan, where there is snow in the winter. This year, we did not get our first accumulation of snowfall until late January. It was kind of strange but, as an adult, very pleasant to not have to deal with snow until this late into the winter. My children, however, felt differently. They lamented the lack of snow and couldn’t wait for it to come. They wanted to go outside in it and make a snow fort and go sledding.
The snow finally came on Saturday. Just like clockwork the kids wanted to go outside and play in it. And the onslaught of requests to take them sledding commenced. Given that the snow came on a Saturday, I had a lot of discretionary time and could have easily taken the kids sledding. It’s what a good dad would do right? The problem is, I absolutely did not feel like going out in the cold and taking them sledding. My oldest son kept asking me. I kept giving the answer that all adults use when they don’t want to do something for their children but have no good reason for it except they are being lazy…”I’ll think about it.” The problem with “I’ll think about it” is that the kids see that as a weakness which they can exploit. And so the requests from the children intensified.
As the day went on, it became apparent that my kids really did want to go sledding as their requests turned into pleas. We only have one sled, so with 4 children they even devised a plan that included me driving them to the dollar store, and the two older boys using their money to buy their own sleds on the way to the sledding hill. It obviously meant a lot to them that I take them sledding. But I DID NOT FEEL LIKE IT AT ALL.
Suddenly something hit me.
I have an opportunity to be a blessing to my children and take them sledding. They are asking me to go out and have fun with them. And I am selfishly rejecting their requests. I began realizing that my laziness and selfishness was depriving them of the opportunity to express their natural child-like wonder, but also depriving me of that same thing as well. If I didn’t take them, I was going to deeply regret it later. What is it about adults that we completely lose the ability to know how to have fun and love life to the fullest? I decided to die to myself and take them sledding. Dread it as I did, I had to do it. They are kids. They deserved the chance to express their kid-ness after 2 snow-less months in Michigan winter.
Once I gave in to their requests and died to my own laziness and selfishness, I was able to remember. I remembered the wonder and love of life with which kids live naturally. As we arrived at the sledding hill near our house, the three oldest immediately began sledding down the hill on their sleds like it was as natural as eating or breathing. I remembered how often I loved going sledding as a kid and how naturally it came to me. I remembered what life was like before I became a boring adult that lazily sits inside when it snows instead of going out to build snow forts and endure the cold for the fun of being out in the snow.
Ironically, as this life lesson hit me, I was scheduled to begin volunteering at my church youth group the next day for the Sunday evening youth group meetings. The boys in attendance spent their free time running around the church building playing tag. As I discussed the evening with one of the regular youth group volunteers I told them I was surprised that the kids didn’t utilize the fuse ball table, the air hockey table, and the pool table more. And she told me the boys generally just like to run around, and around, and around. Of course that is what it looks like to adults. But to those boys they are probably actually playing a game with rules imperceptible to us adults. It is as if once you get a mortgage and car payments you lose the ability to have fun. Again I was faced with how much I have changed since becoming a bill-burdened adult, and was reminded what life was like when I was just a kid who loved to run and play with my friends.
There is a huge life lesson in all of this. Maybe we struggle to motivate ourselves to exercise because we are doing it for the wrong reason. Maybe we shouldn’t even think of it as exercise. My doctor, when talking to me about my need to exercise more, told me that instead of getting a gym membership and never using it, I should think of an activity I like to do such as soccer, basketball, swimming, or whatever, and find a local club that I can sign up to join to do that activity with other adults. I think he is on to something. Kids are typically more fit. I think one of the reasons for this is because they don’t tell themselves they need to go to the gym to exercise, but instead just run after life with all their might. They love life. They play and they play hard. They remember what fun it is to fly down a hill with snow spraying in their face. They remember the joy of running around with their friends and trying to win whatever game it is they are playing. Maybe we need to stop thinking that we should exercise because it is healthy, and just live life more fully, having fun because we still can.