Weaker bodies can lead to weaker character

| July 24, 2015 | 0 Comments


Chaplain (Maj.) Dan Rice
South Community Chaplain
U.S. Army Garrison-Hawaii


“… The harsh fact of the matter is that there is also an increasingly large number of young Americans who are neglecting their bodies – whose physical fitness is not what it should be – who are getting soft. And such softness on the part of individual citizens can help to strip and destroy the vitality of a nation.”


President John F. Kennedy wrote those words, above, in an article titled “The Soft American” in the December 1960 issue of “Sports Illustrated.”

Kennedy was worried that with more and more automation in our daily lives, Americans would stop pushing themselves physically. He believed there was a link between physical health, mental acuity and creativity.

Based on our current levels of fitness today, I wonder what he would think of our nation’s vitality and mental health.

In 1962, JFK threw down the gauntlet to the Commandant of the Marine Corps to see if his officers were as fit as those in early 1900s. He had found an executive order from President Theodore Roosevelt who challenged the Marines in his day to complete a 50-mile hike in under 20 hours. And so was born a challenge to many Americans in the 1960s to complete a 50-mile hike. It was a popular fad … for a while.

Robert Kennedy took the challenge and completed it, despite very poor weather one day. There are even stories of children pushing themselves and finishing the distance in less than 20 hours. But eventually the enthusiasm waned. Fewer people tried it, and this test of one’s endurance and stamina for the most part became … well, history.

While 50 miles may seem extreme today, I wonder if it would do us all some good to try to push ourselves beyond what we think we can do.

For example, suffering can produce better character. It can positively affect your character when you accomplish something physically that you have never done before.

In some ways, we all know that the opposite of this is true. Many of us feel grumpy and act differently when we have not followed our normal workout routine. And though physically tired from a good run or hot yoga session, inside we usually feel better.

Sure, we can explain this away by talking about endorphin levels, but I think there is more going on.

Paul writes in Romans, “We know that suffering produces perseverance; perseverance, character; and character, hope” (5:3-4). Taken in context, Paul is talking about the early Christians being persecuted for their faith and how God can use that suffering in order to build their character and increase their hope for a better future.

I think the principle stated there is generally true; suffering can be used to help build stronger character. To put it another way, stronger bodies can lead to strong character.

When you push yourself physically, it can help you become a better person. Through a consistent workout routine, I learn to not quit. Through the test of training for and running a marathon, we can learn the benefits of delayed gratification. There can be numerous benefits to our character as we improve our own physical fitness levels.

President John F. Kennedy challenged Americans more than 50 years ago to increase their levels of physical fitness. He believed our country could become greater simply if fitness levels were raised across the country. I agree with him.

Let’s do something new to get fit. Let’s do something new to improve our character.

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Category: Footsteps in Faith, News, Standing Columns

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