by Charlene Dash
Sophia is the Greek word for Wisdom, and Propel Sophia seeks out the voices of truly wise women and asks them to share worked examples of how they express faith in daily life. Pull up a chair at Sophia’s table, won’t you? There’s plenty of space. Learn more here.
Ten years ago, I was literally at the end of my rope. Lying prone on a kneeboard, holding on to a tow rope as a boat dragged me around the lake, I experienced a deep dissonance as my brain signals failed to bring movement to my muscles. Something big needed to change.
I knew two things with certainty: first, I was missing out on joy because of my habits and behaviors. Second, I was heading toward increased risks of preventable illnesses due to obesity.
In my family, professional, and ministry roles, I cared for others and purposefully attended to my relationship with God. But I ignored my physical health for many years.
My pathway wasn’t leading me into abundant life. (John 10:10) How does someone barely 5 feet tall, carrying 183 pounds, become healthy and able to participate in physical activities?
One of my barriers was “all or nothing” thinking. I had made past attempts to see a nutritionist, join a gym, and follow a weight loss program. Rules, tracking, and doing more were overwhelming. I “couldn’t do it” so I reverted to doing nothing. I needed to find a way that would work for me.
What is true for spiritual growth is true for any area where we want to see change: small, sustainable, doable adjustments can have a much bigger and longer lasting effect than goals that are so big that we intimidate ourselves! I knew from my lived experience, and later learned from behavior change research, that setting a goal of praying for five minutes in the morning is far more likely to “stick” as a habit than aiming to wake up at 4:30am every day for an hour’s quiet time. So, too, with learning to care for my body - I needed to work on smaller, attainable steps if I wanted to see big change over time.
My journey came in pieces. It was slow and often inconsistent. Yet with the benefit of hindsight, I can identify three small changes that led to long-lasting, big change.
My first step was to be honest with myself: I had a habit of skipping lunch and living off coffee during my work day. I knew this habit hurt my metabolism and was working against my health.
I experimented with one small change: before leaving the house in the morning I would take five minutes to grab vegetables and meat from my fridge and take them with me to work. If I needed to do anything to prepare the food, I did it at work. Putting the food in the fridge at work meant I was more likely to take time to eat lunch. The effort required was small enough to be doable most days.
Left on my own I may have made a few more small changes, but the chances of long term success were unlikely. Ecclesiastes 4:9 says, “Two people are better off than one, for they can help each other succeed.”
I opened up about my desire to become healthier and stronger with a coworker who also brought healthy food for lunch. She encouraged my efforts and did not criticize me on the days when I showed up without food or lunch was overrun by the demands of work.
As a former dancer, her knowledge of exercise was ahead of mine. I asked her if she would provide me with some physical training during lunch. We managed to make it happen one to three times a week — small steps of progress.
Over time, casual conversations led me to join a nutrition coaching program. My participation was inconsistent as I was dealing with some significant family challenges at the time. I felt discouraged, until I reviewed my results and saw that I was still moving in the right direction: my clothing size was dropping and I now walked four kilometres each day.
My own experience was mirroring what research has shown: making smaller, doable shifts leads to larger shifts as the benefits of each shift becomes clear. My husband joined me in the nutrition coaching program and we stepped things up. Doing the program together aligned our efforts, strengthened our relationship, and improved our health. My husband’s encouragement to take a “just play at it” approach to workouts allowed me to step into the gym and embrace new challenges.
As I grew in caring for, nourishing and moving my physical body, I grew in wholeness in every area of my life. Practicing a sleep routine cued my body for rest and connected the Genesis pattern of “evening and morning” to my daily life. Training, competing in, and finishing my first triathlon brought spiritual truths of athletic training and running a race (1 Corinthians 9, 2 Timothy 4, and Hebrews 12) to life with power as an embodied, experienced reality. Healthy eating, more exercise, and better sleep improved my emotional resilience.
God’s grace-pace of small changes continues to make me more whole. Ten years later I’m beginning to lead others in physical movement. It’s a new level of discomfort that feels overwhelming and foolish. Yet God continues to call me into uncomfortable spaces to bring freedom, life and wholeness for myself, and for others. But all this change didn’t happen overnight. The big difference began with small changes, one brave step at a time.
Charlene Dash is cofounder of Gospel for Life, and serves alongside her husband Darryl at Liberty Grace Church in Toronto. She worked for over 25 years in business, is a Certified Revelation Fitness Instructor, Certified Gospel Coach, and Precision Nutrition Level 2 Certified. Charlene has two adult children: Christy and Josiah.