The membership office at the YMCA was crowded the day I joined. While I was filling out paperwork, a woman said: "We all must be feeling guilty. That's why so many of us are joining now!"
I didn't think too much about her comment. I just felt that since I have a job that involves lots of sitting, I needed more activity in my day. The "Y" seemed like a good place that offered lots of options. What I didn't realize at the time was how this woman's comments would come back to me later.
Before I joined the Y, I listened for God's guidance, as I'm used to doing in many areas of my life. I find that I make better decisions when I lean on divine direction rather than on my own, even for the simplest decisions. And I did get clear guidance that this was a good thing to do. So I was a little puzzled when after a few weeks of loving my time at the Y, I felt assaulted by thoughts of self-hatred and guilt.
It happened one day after I finished my workout. Suddenly I was besieged by self-condemnation, guilt, regret, over the times I had been willful and disobedient about eating. Even though I had been rejoicing in my newfound dominion over undisciplined eating, I still felt guilty over past mistakes. Finally, it got so bad that I just gave in to the accusation and admitted that I hated myself for the mistakes I had made.
Hating yourself for any reason is a very dark place to be, and I knew I didn't want to stay there very long. Mary Baker Eddy, the Discoverer of Christian Science wrote: "It were better to be exposed to every plague on earth than to endure the cumulative effects of a guilty conscience" ("Science and Health with Key to the Scriptures," pg. 405).
So I prayed to God to be rescued. It took a lot of mental wrestling even to be willing to hear Him, because the arguments of guilt were so strong. But I finally did get quiet and became willing to turn away from that hateful, accusatory voice. God's message to me was simple: "I don't hate you. I love you." At first I thought, "How could this be possible in light of my past mistakes?" I fought the message because all the self-condemnation seemed so justifiable. But the message of love was so compelling that I couldn't help but consider what God was trying to tell me.
I heard God's gentle reassurance that Love, God, never condemns me but always loves me - even if I have done things that I may regret. Love delights in me because I am part of His good creation, one of His beloved children. The Bible says: "What marvelous love the Father has extended to us! Just look at it - we're called children of God! (I John 3:1, Eugene Peterson, "The Message").
I realized that Love was showing me that willfulness, disobedience, self- condemnation, guilt, are not part of me as His child, created in His image and likeness. "God creates and governs the universe, including man. The universe is filled with spiritual ideas, which He evolves, and they are obedient to the Mind that makes them," Mrs. Eddy wrote (Science and Health, pg. 295).
My time at the Y started becoming a time of rejoicing because God's love was waking me up, so that I could embrace my true nature as His image and likeness - good, joyful, loved, obedient. And I could drop what amounted to nothing more than a wrong picture of myself as disobedient and guilty.
I found my innocence and freedom as God's child when I became willing to listen to how God was knowing me at that moment, rather than spend my time sifting through the past or rehearsing mistakes. Listening to God, divine Mind, rather than to my own or others' opinions, helped me find my goodness as His loved child. And I realized another thing - joining the Y was actually wonderful confirmation of my willingness to listen to God's direction.
Now when I'm working out, I look at it as an opportunity to celebrate God's love for me and His joy about how He created me. It's a time to get to know myself better - not as a mortal who is trying to get in shape but as God's spiritual likeness who expresses activity, purpose, joy, strength, beauty, freedom. It's not a time for condemnation; it's a time for appreciation. Often I think of what the Bible says: "He [God] delivered me, because he delighted in me" (Ps. 18:19).