Strength Training

By Kaniel Geeslin

This is my friend, Kaniel’s, testimony of going from being stuck in striving to gaining ground through God’s grace and empowerment! With a couple of valuable “Bonus Tips” along the way. Want to read more of Kaniel’s deep ponderings and reflections?

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“You just need to believe in yourself.” Sounds familiar, right? This message crops up in countless story mediums of today. Believe in yourself, they say, and you will find the power from within to carry on, conquer, find your place, belong, get the bad guys, win the game. I’m here to share a story – my story – that contradicts this modern-day mantra. What I’ve witnessed about life is quite the opposite: how powerless I am to change anything about it!  Life is not about me or about what I can accomplish. Life is so much more than what I can produce or muster in my strength. The sooner I realize how powerless I am, the better. I certainly would have saved myself many setbacks had I grasped that reality sooner. Real power is found outside ourselves; and the exciting truth is that we all can lay hold of it.

Mine is a simple story. I have been overweight for the vast majority of my life. In fact, to this day I will eat most anything except Kraft macaroni and cheese. Yeah, go figure.  That foodie in me, combined with my less-than-efficient digestive system and my inclination to choose less active pastimes, resulted in me becoming a portly youth by the age of 8. To be honest, I was never particularly self-conscious. We all know how mean kids can be. They would make fun of me and call me “fat” when they were mad, but that never seemed to faze me. My family affirmed me. They made me feel beautiful (bonus parenting tip: never underestimate the power of verbal affirmation in your child’s life!). No, the mean kids didn’t bother me. What did bother me was my inability to win a footrace. I didn’t like my limitations. I could never jump very high. I couldn’t catch my cousins playing capture the flag.  I would be the first kid to get winded in freeze tag. There were things I simply could not do because my body was just too heavy. That bothered me very much.

When I transitioned to my teen years, I began to feel self-conscious of my weight. At 14, I went on a diet for the very first time. It was a low carb plan that cut out sugar, grains, starches, and dairy. I lost a lot of weight…fast! I quickly became light on my feet, dropped a few pants sizes, and felt fabulous. But it was not a healthy way to lose weight. When I hit high school, I jumped full force into rigorous academics. During the week, most of my days were spent sitting at my desk or at a computer. My eating plan fell by the wayside. Instead of establishing healthy eating habits and a consistent exercise routine, I had merely tricked my body into burning its fats as quickly as possible. So, as soon as I stopped eating low carb, I began to gain back all the weight I had lost. It came back slowly, but more permanently. That was my first and last diet. 

At that time I didn’t know much about healthy eating, but I was smart enough to realize that this very American way of dieting was unhealthy. It was like slapping a band aid on a gaping wound. It was a quick fix, something merely effective for the moment. My heart desired a permanent change.

As the years went by, I never really found time to start eating right. Isn’t that always the excuse? “I don’t have time for the meal prep; I won’t be able to drive to the gym every day; I never seem to find time to exercise at home; etc.” Lack of time was definitely my excuse. And it’s a legitimate reason why so many Americans get stuck in an unhealthy cycle. Our lives are full to bursting with busyness. I call it busyness intentionally. We are so busy about things that are neither lasting nor purposeful. Driving here and there, doing this and that, we fill up the schedule with nothingness. We engage in short, pleasant conversations that fit right into our social life time slots, but rarely go deep enough to cause us to stop and really examine ourselves, or, heaven forbid, cause us any measure of discomfort (bonus relationship tip: if you never experience discomfort in conversation, you’re probably not doing it right). I knew that if I wanted to see a difference in my physical wellness, I needed to make time. But every attempt was thwarted. I’d get sick with a virus, twist my ankle on my first run, or injure my back slipping down the stairs.  I’d experience random knee pain, struggle with plantar fasciitis, and suffer from chronic cramping in my calves. Every one of these scenarios literally happened, and coincided with my decision to begin an exercise plan.  Time and time again I was defeated. The obstacles hindered me from moving forward.

Despite the setbacks, I implemented tactics to change my eating habits. Buying my own groceries and purchasing lots of fruits and veggies proved somewhat successful. But no matter how hard I tried, I could not get into a consistent rhythm. My healthy eating was patchy at best, and every exercise kick lasted no longer than three weeks. One question resounded loudly: Why? Why was it so hard for me to succeed at what I put my hand to? 

My struggle was real, and it bled into every area of my life – my relationships, my education, my personal goals. I wrestled. I wanted breakthrough. As with every burden on my heart, I brought my question before the Lord. “Why, Lord? Why is it so hard for me to succeed?” Funny thing about God! He seldom answers when we think he should.

While my mind and heart pondered these thoughts, the Lord was speaking very clearly to other areas of my life. For me, these past two years have been a lesson in heart knowledge. My heart has experienced Jesus. I have felt his love. I have known him with an assurance that surpasses mere “head” knowledge. Two years ago, when he told me to remain in Tennessee, I knew he was speaking with more certainty than I have ever known before.  When I try to explain the dynamics of that encounter, I can only say that his was not an audible voice. It was more than audible. It was as if he commandeered my understanding. He led me thought by thought, until his full revelation was complete. The result was a confidence and power that I had never possessed until that moment. It was a confidence we experience only when we encounter – truly encounter – the one true God.

Fast forward to one rainy night when the Lord revealed a pivotal portion of his plan. It was soggy, cool, and dark in my neighborhood. Before my run, I prayed, “Lord, help me to finish for your glory.” The previous week I had struggled to finish a full cycle on my running app. As I ran, every breath I drew burned. I could taste blood from the broken capillaries in my lungs. But on this night, things changed. I barely felt the pain. My legs, though limp and dead, continued moving. With each step I gained strength. Oh, I am all too familiar with the feeling of pushing through with all you have. I know what it’s like to suddenly find that last burst of energy hiding deep inside yourself. I’m familiar with the superhero quality of the body’s adrenaline. But that’s not what was happening this time. I was not producing this strength. Its source was not coming from within. It was coming from something external to myself. I literally felt the power of the Holy Spirit carrying me through. Every step. Every breath. Tears of gratitude flowed. They poured down my cheeks as I realized this was his answer. He answered the question that had burdened my heart for so long. Why was it so hard to succeed at what I put my hand to? The answer: “Because all of it had been done in your own strength, Kaniel.”

Last year – almost 12 months to the day – I remember (my friend) Ashton speaking the word “fit” over me. We were at Youth Camp, and I had come up for the evening to help serve. During the evening worship session, he came over and shared this word: “fit.” He interpreted it as “finding my fit”; he felt very strongly about that and encouraged me to pray diligently for the Lord to reveal his fit for me. I prayed fervently, but heard no reply that week. Funny enough, that moment marked the first step on my journey to health and fitness, although I didn’t even realize it! I remember the Lord prompting me to text Ashton (who is a personal trainer and nutritionist) later that night to add, “Speaking of fit, I need you to help me get fit.”

Believe me when I say that those words would have never come out of my mouth had the Lord not been doing a great work in my heart already. Those words required a humility which I had never known. They required vulnerability. Those words revealed my new-found uninhibited faith in God’s plan, and my trust in the people he had intentionally placed in my path. 

It was not my own strength that enabled me to reach out to Ashton. Similarly, it has not been by my own strength that I’ve made huge strides since. My friend Ashton has given me manageable steps to teach me how to exchange bad habits for good ones. He has been crucial to God’s plan for my physical well-being. More than providing useful knowledge, encouragement, and accountability, he has imparted Holy Spirit inspired wisdom. Every Tuesday we begin our training with prayer. Every rep, every bead of sweat, is offered unto the glory of my King. To say I am grateful to have a trainer who shares my same convictions would be an understatement. No. I am blessed. Anyone who knew me growing up knows full well that I would have been beyond embarrassed even to work out alongside another person. It’s amazing what can happen when we are fully surrendered to the Lord. When we totally yield to his will, anything is possible. He moves the mountains erected by our own limited understanding. He makes the seemingly impossible possible. He does so when we say, as Jesus said, “Not my will, but yours be done.” In his divine mercy, the Lord has brought me to a place of utter dependence on him. He has silenced the demons, the voices that dupe me, the ones that convince me that I can succeed on my own. It is what Sheldon Vanauken calls a “severe mercy” of the Lord.  He allowed me to suffer all the heartache and all the failures of my striving in order to press me to the point of glad surrender. I’ve relinquished my own ideas. I’ve not lost power, but gained it. I had to stop striving and allow him to move.

I truly believe Ashton’s prophetic word had two meanings. The Lord wanted access to more areas of my heart, and from that point he has taught me some very important truths. First, that our lives are not our own. We belong to our Maker. Second, that our bodies are not our own. They belong to our Maker. We have a responsibility to steward well that which he has so graciously given us.   

This simple story testifies to the truth. It is found in these words, “Whoever finds his life will lose it, and whoever loses his life for my sake will find it” (Matthew 10:39). In order to have a full life, to experience real, authentic power, we have to get rid of all the junk that clutters our heart. Everything in this world that fills us hinders God from filling us. He alone must fill and empower us. Everyone has access to him. And although his power is offered freely, it costs us everything. It requires all that we have.

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