If you are a teen who has been to youth camp, you know that S.E.P. is rigorous. For many people, it may be exhausting and a bit overwhelming, especially at first. But this is the same program we’ve been using for generations. Is there a reason it seems harder now than it did before? Is there a reason more campers seem to struggle with sickness than they used to, even just 10 years ago?
3 John 2 says, “Beloved, I wish above all things that thou mayest prosper and be in health, even as thy soul prospereth.” God wants us to experience strong, vigorous health. If we’re keeping God’s health laws, generally we should be experiencing that! Sickness is caused by physical sin—breaking God’s health laws. When you get sick, that’s a good time to think about what laws you may have broken. Ask yourself: Why am I sick? Contrary to popular belief, sickness is not normal. It isn’t just “to be expected.”
Now, it is not always your fault if you are sick or injured—if someone runs into you and knocks you down in rugby, there might not be much that you could have done about that. But if you are generally active, strong and fit, then you’ll be a lot more capable of handling an elevated level of physical demands without injury. Similarly, if someone else has broken health laws and comes into contact with you when they are sick, you will be less likely to get sick yourself if you have a strong, healthy immune system. The stronger and fitter you are, the more protected you arefrom sickness and injury.
So if you do have an injury or sickness, or feel that you get sick or injured easily, what can you do? Get stronger! I am not just talking about being able to press more weight. I’m talking about building overall physical strength and becoming more physically resilient.
Theodore Roosevelt was one of the most dynamic presidents America has ever had. He was a force of energy who spread that dynamism to everyone around him. Everyone recognized that he was a forceful, energetic man—but as a boy, he was very sickly! His father once told him, “Theodore, you have the mind but you have not the body, and without the help of the body the mind cannot go as far as it should. … It is up to you to make your body.” Teddy answered, “I will make my body!” And he spent the rest of his life doing that: He hiked, ran, swam, wrestled, hunted. When he graduated, his doctor gave him a physical and told him to lead a “quiet, sedentary life” because he had a weak heart and would die young if he were too active. Theodore tenaciously replied, “Doctor, I’m going to do everything you told me not to do, because I would rather die than live a quiet, sedentary life.” When told not to climb too many stairs, Teddy proceeded to climb the nearly 15,000-foot-tall Matterhorn in the Alps.
Consider Winston Churchill, the great orator, statesman and savior of the West during World War ii. This is William Manchester’s description of young Winston in The Last Lion: “Sickly, an uncoordinated weakling, with the pale fragile hands of a girl, speaking with a lisp and a slight stutter, he had been at the mercy of bullies. They beat him, ridiculed him, and pelted him with cricket balls. Trembling and humiliated, he hid in the nearby woods. This was hardly the stuff of which gladiators are made.” But Churchill didn’t let that stop him! Manchester continued, “Beginning at the age of 7, Churchill deliberately set out to change his nature, to prove that biology need not be destiny.”
This was no small feat. Churchill was up against a lot of physical obstacles. Manchester continued: “His head was ponderous, his limbs small, his belly tumescent, his chest puny. His skin was so sensitive that he broke into a rash unless he slept naked at night between silk sheets. … He wrote, ‘I am cursed with so feeble a body, that I can hardly support the fatigues of the day.’ As a child he caught pneumonia. He suffered from chest ailments the rest of his life. He was allergic to anesthetics and periodically erupted in boils. Nevertheless, he refused to yield to human frailty. In his inner world there was no room for concessions to weakness. He never complained of fatigue.” Manchester goes on to describe how he survived numerous heart attacks, strokes, operations, repeated bouts of pneumonia, and even sleeping on a mattress infested with ticks when he was 69 years old. He “altered his emotional constitution to that of an athlete, projecting the image of a valiant, indomitable bulldog.” No wonder Manchester introduced Churchill by saying, “[H]e will be cherished as a man”!
These giants of world history made themselves strong. They didn’t let frailty defeat them. They wanted to do great things in their lives, and they knew that would take strength, and they overcame tremendous adversity to build that strength.
Honestly, many teens in God’s Church today are frail. A lot get hurt or sick fairly easily. It is common and accepted in today’s society to take yourself out of an uncomfortable activity. How will that make you stronger? Some teens have really made strong gains over the years. For instance, some teens have kept up the Ignition warm-up that we do every morning during S.E.P., and have come back to camp a year later much fitter and stronger!
I was a counselor for the first time in S.E.P. 1996. I wasn’t particularly sporty. I wasn’t the fittest person. But I checked out a book from the library on dumbbell training and bought a set of dumbbells. The book was about simple exercises I could do in my basement. I did them for about six months. It wasn’t an incredibly rigorous program compared to the physical education program we have on campus now. But when I came back to S.E.P. in 1997, I noticed that every sport was easier for me. I had more to contribute to them, even though I hadn’t played them through the year. All I had done was dumbbell exercises four times a week, and it made a huge difference! My muscles had learned to respond when I needed them.
In his book I Dare You, William Danforth talked about the four areas we need to develop: physical, mental, social and spiritual. In his chapter “I Dare You to Be Strong,” he wrote, “When leaders command, bodies obey. ‘Body, what can you do with flabby muscles and faulty digestion? How can you arrive anywhere if you get tired and your energy peters out? That hollow chest and those drooping shoulders will never get you to the top of the ladder. About-face! Muscles strong! Chest up! Head erect!’ It is difficult at first, but soon the sheer joy of vigorous health amply rewards you for daring to be strong and well.”
Proverbs 20:29 says, “The glory of young men is their strength.” Strength means fervor, vigor, force, physical capacity and ability. It’s talking about the might and power of a young body. But too few young men develop their strength. You don’t become strong naturally. You must build strength and work at it! Though it is probably the hardest component to develop, raw physical strength is probably the most important component of physical fitness. Whatever you put into it will more than pay you back for the rest of your life.
God made you to be strong, especially you young men! He has given you large capacity to be strong, but you must develop it. However, this isn’t for young men only. God wants women to be strong, too.Notice what He says about the Proverbs 31 woman: “She girdeth her loins with strength, and strengtheneth her arms” (verse 17).
Strength is a virtue for all of us. We will all benefit from being stronger. Building strength boosts physical and mental health and has been shown to boost your moods. Physical strength prepares you for life’s demands, and particularly for events like S.E.P. where we have long, rigorous and physically demanding days. If we are not building our strength regularly, then our muscles will not be kept in a fit state and it could be disastrous when we need them to suddenly work hard. We have a lot of labor-saving devices in our world now, and it’s easy to grow soft. But sometimes those things break down and you have to rely on your muscle to get the job done!
Strength protects you from sickness and injury. It forms a solid foundation for a life of flourishing, richness and excellence. It enables you to develop your potential—you cannot do that if you’re weak!
So how do you get stronger? You have to take responsibility for your own life! You have to build a personal relationship with God through your study and prayer. You need to raise your academic standards and prepare for Armstrong College. You have to cause good things to happen, translating positive ideas into reality. You can do more than you think if you will work for it. God is trying to light a fire under you!
How can that apply to this area of strength and health? It’s easy to just keep doing what you’re doing, especially if there’s no one really pushing you at home. It’s really difficult to push yourself. But what can you do to take personal responsibility? It’s your job to eat right, exercise, get the sleep you need. That’s what young Theodore Roosevelt and Winston Churchill did.
Some of you would really benefit from building muscle and losing some weight. Having excess weight hurts you because it puts more stress on your joints and makes you more susceptible to injury. If you’re dealing with that as a teenager, where will you be in a few years? It’s easy for that to linger, so now is the time to attack it and set right habits as you go forward in life. It’s far easier to do at this stage of life than later on. Here are three basic things to focus on as you get stronger:
If you’re feeding your face with junk food, you’re making yourself weaker. There’s no way around that. That food staves off the hunger pains, but it doesn’t give your body the fuel and nutrition it needs to build strength. Hidden sugars in processed foods actually deplete your body of the nutrients it needs! Make sure that what you put in your system builds your body.
Posture is an expression of strength: The stronger you are, the easier it is to hold correct posture; and it also contributes to and reinforces your strength. Any portraits of royalty show strong, upright bearing. That is royal posture. Having your head forward and sitting or standing slumped down is not royal posture. Bad posture leads to bad movement, which causes injuries. If you’re staring down at a computer or a phone for too long, your muscles become imbalanced and your spine can become improperly fused permanently. That leads to pain that will prevent you from other activities. I’m amazed at how many young people at camp and college are struggling with injuries that tend to be more common for people in their 50s and 60s. You should be free from those kinds of issues right now! But you have to work to prevent those issues from developing.
Sitting changes the position of the spine, as does lying down. It causes circulatory constriction and soft tissue problems, and can lead to obesity, muscle weakness and lack of mobility. Sit up tall! Stand up if you can! If you stand upright and move around, it increases concentration and mental performance. When you are sitting, keep both feet on the floor rather than crossing your legs. Practice good habits of good posture like holding a book at eye level rather than bending your head down to read. For online students who have to look at a computer all day, raise the monitor to eye level and look straight on rather than down. There’s no way you will not develop bad habits unless you work at it.
Stay as active as possible, especially when you’re young and have energy! If you can’t muster the energy to exercise when you’re young, it will only get harder as you age and have more aches and pains. Exercise leads to increased confidence and improved sleep. God made us to move. Make it a habit to get some good, rigorous exercise three or four days a week. Build habits of other physical activity where possible—walk and bike places rather than taking your car. Play sports. Keep your body moving, and be consistent about it. You’ll feel better, move better, and see improvement in many areas of life.
Canadian member Jorg Mardian, a health and fitness instructor whom we regularly have on Trumpet Hour, said this about weight management: “To maintain your weight, work your way up to 30 minutes of moderate intensity, aerobic activity five days a week. The amount varies person to person—you may need to do more than 150 minutes a week. To lose weight and keep it off, you’ll need a high amount of physical activity unless you also reduce calories in your diet. It requires both regular physical activity and a healthy eating plan. You gain weight when you consume more calories than the number of calories you burn, including those you burn in physical activity.”
If you’re doing these things regularly, then you’ll be far more equipped to handle whatever challenges life throws at you. If you’re lifting weights, for instance, then you’re strengthening your bones. This will cause them to become dense and less liable to break under pressure.
If you don’t want to do weights, there are many other things you can do even without any equipment or a gym membership. You can get a pull-up bar for a doorframe for $25. You can do the Ignition warmup that we do every morning at S.E.P. Keep going. Be consistent. Keep pushing yourself to grow in strength. And remember that you are playing the long game. It’s not about getting from A to Z in one workout; rather, it’s about chipping away and moving the right direction in the choices you make each day. You will not make your body in one day—but you will accomplish a lot if you do a little bit each and every day. Don’t be intimidated by physical shortcomings or the lazy, sluggish lifestyle being pushed by your peers. Be a Roosevelt or a Churchill: Go make yourself strong!