By Melanie Mar Chow
It must be February! Why? My recent trips to the gym have thinned, post-New Year’s resolutions. Only thin people persevere to regulate body size. Where are all of my new friends who were going to lose weight this year with me? What happened to my own discipline, especially when I got a cold and didn’t go to the gym for a few weeks?
If, like me, the bed and self-pity have been your comfort, perhaps it’s time to regroup and find a coach who will give instructions like Coach Titus did: “the grace of God has appeared, bringing salvation for all people, training us to renounce ungodliness and worldly passions, and to live self-controlled, upright, and godly lives in the present age, waiting for our blessed hope, the appearing of the glory of our great God and Savior Jesus Christ” (Titus 2:11-13 NIV).
God’s grace saves us, causing us to desire self-regulation for emotional health. In this season of rapid change in our world, possibly in great contradiction to our personal beliefs, it is by the presence of God’s grace that we can return to our training so that we can renounce ungodliness, and more so regain our sense of personal control.
To my fellow armchair athletes — my favorite reminder is from Paul to the Corinthians in the first epistle, chapter 9:24-27:
Do you not know that in a race all the runners run, but only one gets the prize? Run in such a way as to get the prize. Everyone who competes in the games goes into strict training. They do it to get a crown that will not last, but we do it to get a crown that will last forever. Therefore I do not run like someone running aimlessly; I do not fight like a boxer beating the air. No, I strike a blow to my body and make it my slave so that after I have preached to others, I myself will not be disqualified for the prize.
It is one thing to be self-controlled — in diet/exercise, health, and intelligence — but if it means our lives are to make a difference and if the presence of God at work is to be our testimony, this gets me moving a little faster. Paul’s instructions asks us, If there is a prize, do we go after it? He gives us a way to run — not just to run, but to run for the prize. Athletes who exercise self-regulation have a prize that is imperishable. There is work to be done, to exercise and find discipline. As followers of Jesus, does our self-awareness allow us to regulate our emotions and for our discouragements to better us? The goal is not to be disqualified.
This week was hard, as a wife, mom, and person, I have embodied my failings instead of letting them go. Moms often sacrifice for others, and forget to take care when there is no energy left. Sometimes, they quit too early instead of driving harder or waiting for God’s provision. Self-regulation does not mean self-absorption or isolation. It means learning to temper myself and gain from others God has brought along in my journey. It is the people who God has enabled me to trust who have worked to build relationships with me, even when I am not relationally worthy or are hard to love. These persevere with God’s love, helping me to redirect and strengthen. They provide ways to see progress and joy in life because of prayers supporting me during struggles. Seeing this, I can rest in God’s lead, being carried through the difficult experiences. In the end, I am better for God and God’s people, even reproducing those actions of their goodness on someone else’s behalf.
For example, one afternoon I was furiously trying to park a rental car into a small parking space. This rental had very awkward blind spots where I had to literally turn around to see the rearview mirrors. (As a campus minister I’m often required to get into crowded parking spaces due to over-populated student apartments.) In this case, I broke out into a sweat not wanting to hit the other cars. I also did not buy renter’s insurance, so bumping my way into the spot was definitely not an option!
On this particular night, I was late and the only space free was one that was kind of tight. Others had driven by and passed it because of the obvious work (and headache) it involved. But I prayed for God’s provision so I signaled to back in but a car honked, unaware of my challenge. I waved them by as they were yelling something about having to slow down to get around me. Fine, I tried to regulate my anger, swallow it. Returning to the parking task, I didn’t realize the car in front of me had left, leaving less space. This frustration was now manifesting tears; no longer merely sweat. As I struggled for what was more than the biblical seventh time, I felt a bang on the hood of my car. No! Did I imagine having my foot slip and hit the car? Instead, in the twilight I saw a young man trying to get my attention. He offered to help me navigate the spot, asking me to roll down my windows to hear his voice guide me into the spot. It took a few times and deep breaths, but success came with 6” on both sides. I quickly thanked him and ran into the apartments for my meeting.
This story reminds me to heed the call not just from my gym to return to the faithful who are working out and whittling away to health, but also to persevere in emotional self-checking by God’s grace as I go through my days. Even when it’s hard, with God I can regulate and let God do the rest as I get back into the race.
Rev. Melanie Mar Chow serves God through Asian American Christian Fellowship, the campus ministry division of the Japanese Evangelical Missionary Society (JEMS). She has been an ordained American Baptist minister since 2004. A Pacific Northwest native, she currently lives with her husband and daughter in Southern California.