"You can do this," I said to myself, clutching the steering wheel with my two hands. I looked up through the windshield of my car at the tall lettering of my gym's sign: One Life Fitness.
This was ironic to me, because I had already spent twenty-five years of my One Life avoiding the gym.
How long had it been since my last visit? One month? Two months?
I sat in the parking lot trying to guilt myself into going inside. Trying to get pumped into running (very, very slowly) on an elliptical machine for 30 minutes; then if that went well, maybe I'd be ambitious and do a round or two with free weights.
"It's just one hour out of my day, I got this," I said, and promptly hopped out of my car, ready to prove my self-conscious right.
I bounded through the doors of the gym with my ponytail high and water bottle full; my entry card was poised, ready to beep me past the reception desk.
I smiled at a young woman with the blonde ponytail who was manning the entrance, and then continued to march quickly to the locker rooms.
"Excuse me, ma’am?” The blonde ponytail stopped me and my neon green sneakers in their track. “You still owe $89.00 for the last two month’s membership fees." Her smile was sharp, and just a little too cheerful to be telling me such difficult news.
I winced and reluctantly pulled my debit card out of my wallet. Eighty-nine dollars. On my adorable starting salary. For a service I barely used.
Why was I insisting on living this way, again?
Honestly, I had been holding onto this gym membership because I was afraid that canceling it would mean that I didn't care about being strong and healthy. But, being a member of a gym didn't make me healthy. I had to put in the actual work.
There, in the middle of the gym's reception area, I had a breakthrough. Not so much a fitness breakthrough, but a spiritual one. It made me realize all of the unnecessary expenses that were weighing me down.
Gym membership fees being the least of these.
You see, I have these habits in my life that I've grown immune to. They stack up like unpaid bills. I've held them for so long that it's easy for me to forget that they're wrong. I go throughout my day partaking in these little indulgences—an extra salty snack too close to bedtime, spending money I don't have, speaking unkindly of others—and accept them as personality traits.
Not as character flaws that I need to let go of.
I realized that if I was going to change my unhealthy habits, I had to be brave enough to run toward the person I wanted to become, and dismiss the toxic habits and negative self-talk that were as much a part of me as my facial features.
So I canceled my gym membership and decided to become a runner. I placed one foot in front of the other three days a week. And I ran for one minute, then walked for one minute, and repeated the process. Winded. Uncomfortable. Sore.
Then, week-by-week, the runs became longer and easier. I was up to running ten minutes without stopping, then 15, then 20 the next week. Until finally, I reached a point where I could run three miles in under 30 minutes.
Me. The girl who could barely run for 60 seconds straight.
Perhaps a lot of the time we're tempted to fall into the old routine simply because we understand that we can't change, or that we can't control our urges. Adam and Eve took the ultimate fall, so we're all privy to sin, right?
But if we tell ourselves we're going to make bad choices, we will keep making them. No matter what.
We're told to trust God and to simply let go of the destructive habits that take hold of us. But it's a little more complicated than that.
We can’t just let go of bad habits or addictions. It’s not enough to just release something from our hands. We have to take hold of something else. We have to–as Alex Baldwin’s alcoholic character in 30 Rock said–replace the ritual.
Our addictions, our habits are rituals, aren’t they? They’re the methods we celebrate, not with joy, but with repetition. We will repeat the same actions over and over again. Mostly because we can't imagine our lives any other way. And also because a little part of us actually wants to hold on to them, right?
Breaking these habits require work. It's more than just "letting go and letting God." Of course, yes, we need the Lord to see us through. So many of our goals and challenges are made infinitely (literally) easier with Him by our side.
But, we can't let grace be our fallback plan. Breaking our bad habits is about being fully awake to the choices we make every day. It's about deciding whether or not we will allow ourselves, in every second of every day, to be consumed with how we've lived in the past.
If it can be done with our physical fitness goals, it can be done in our spiritual lives. One foot in front of the other on the pavement. Starting slowly, and working up our endurance. Out of breath, imperfect and full of the grace that gives us the momentum to move forward.
Brett Wilson is a Christ-loving, single, curly-haired, left-handed coffee-addict. She is a public relations writer in Virginia Beach, Virginia. Brett lives with her best friend and a Boston Terrier named Regis. You can read more from Brett at her site, www.prodigalsister.com, or on Twitter.