Now in Jerusalem by the Sheep Gate there is a pool, called in Hebrew Beth-zatha, which has five porticoes. 3In these lay many invalids — blind, lame, and paralyzed. 5One man was there who had been ill for thirty-eight years. 6When Jesus saw him lying there and knew that he had been there a long time, he said to him, “Do you want to be made well?” John 5:2-5 (NRSV)
Before I get too deep into this reflection, I want to offer a disclaimer of sorts. While I am both an ACE Certified Health Coach and Personal trainer, I have never been, and never expect to be, invited to pose for the cover of Men’s Health magazine. In my defense, though, unlike those cover models I am not genetically predisposed to six-pack abs, ripped pecs, and buns of steel. I share the musings in this blog not from the standpoint of someone you should strive to emulate, but as one who is travelling the path to better health and wellness with you, confronting and dealing with all the obstacles along the way.
That disclaimer is a good segue to the topic of this article, self-identity. While the ways in we self-identify are the topic of many conversations these days, and rightly so, I am thinking of how we identify ourselves in the areas of health and fitness.
The question Jesus asks of the man at Beth-zatha seems to be a no-brainer; of course he wants to be made well! But what if we rephrase the question? What if Jesus asked, “Are you ready and willing to take on a new identity and begin a new way of life?” For thirty-eight years he had been known as “the guy at Beth-zatha who has never gotten into the pool.” If he is made well, he loses that identity, the world he has known for much of his life will be turned upside down. Jesus calls him to face that reality. Is he ready? Does he really want to be made well?
While many of us say we want to healthier and more physically fit, are we ready and willing to face a new identity? How much of our identity is wrapped up in our habits of nutrition and exercise? From the individual, “He never turns down seconds, she is always ready for desert, I can eat anything I want and never gain weight, I don’t have time for exercise, I’m too old, too young, too thin, too obese,” etc. to the general, “Lutherans, just love to eat! If you feed them, they will come!
While the man at the pool felt his reason for not getting into the water was perfectly legitimate, a health coach point might ask, “Might you be able to work your way closer to the pool so that when it is stirred up you could just roll over and be in?” Knowing our situation, being aware of our predispositions, and recognizing how we self-identify with them means they no longer must define who we are. “That’s just the way I am” is more excuse than reason. If “The way I am” is not the way I want to be I can search for ways to become more like the person I aspire to be.
“Do [we] want to be made well?” or are we clinging to an identity that no longer serves us well as healthy, fit, magnificent creations of a loving creator?
Your partner in mission and ministry,
Pr. Jim Person