Use it or Lose it!

October 25, 2017

A thousand years ago (well, to be more precise, it was 35 or 36 years ago) I was in a conversation with a classmate in Seminary. We were in our second or third (of three) years, and while I can’t clearly recall what led into the conversation, I do have a very accurate recollection of a snippet of the dialogue.

John was a second-career student (that means that he had been out of school, and worked in the “real world” for a while, and was now in Seminary. I asked him what he had done before Seminary, and he shared that he worked for NASA. Curious if not fascinated, I asked him what he did, and he said that he studied the effects of weightlessness on muscle tissue.

At this stage of the game I was a mid-twenties young man, in fairly good shape (as I am today—I tell people that “round is a shape!”), active, fit, and exercising regularly, running quite a lot at the time. As such, I was very interested in what NASA had learned, so I asked him.

“Use it or lose it,” John said. “The minute you stop using a muscle, it begins to atrophy.”

That advice, if that’s what it was, has stuck with me for a long time.

I had arthroscopic knee surgery in 1993, and within a month of the surgery, I was back at the YMCA working out. A friend asked which knee I’d had surgery on, and when I said it was the left one, he said, “That’s what I thought; your left calf is smaller than the right one.” In other words, the calf muscles had atrophied, because they had not been used as much.

Fast-forward to earlier this year, when one of my knees was hurting a fair amount. I kept plugging away at normal activities, but it bugged me enough that I went to see my “knee guy.” (By the way, I am a walking orthopedic referral agency—if you need one, call me!)

Mark had some X-rays shot, then he came in and talked to me. OK, he asked a lot of questions and listened to me, then manipulated the knee some. He said he could feel some inflammation in it, then looked back at the X-rays.

“I don’t see any narrowing of the joint as I expected,” he said (Mark performed arthroscopic surgery on this knee in about 2009.) “And I don’t see any arthritis in it.” I asked if he wouldn’t need an MRI to see that, and learned then that arthritis shows up in an X-ray better than in an MRI.

“Chuck, I think this is abuse. If you want to do whatever you’re doing, keep doing it; because if you quit, you won’t be able to.”

In other words, “Use it or lose it.”

So I’m riding my bike, running some, going to a boot camp every week, and doing the best I can to ignore those nagging pains. When they get to be too much to ignore, I employ my “spit on it, rub some dirt in it, and keep on playing” philosophy. At 60, I’m not as strong as I used to be, I’m sure not as fast or as quick as I used to be, but—as I tell my F3 buddies (F3 is the boot camp—Google it)—“there’s no quit in me.”


You know, it’s not just my body that this applies to—or yours, for that matter. It is my soul, and yours, as well. This is why I get up at 4:30 five days a week, and darn early the other days of the week. I don’t want my soul to atrophy, either.

In his great book The Kingdom Within, author John Sanford shares this:

When I was a boy, we spent a month each summer in an old farmhouse in New Hampshire.  The house was 150 years old when it first came into our family’s hands and had never been modernized.  As my father was the minister of a modest-sized Episcopal church, we were always short of money, and so for a long time we lived in the house quite simply, without the benefit of modern plumbing or electricity.  Our water supply during these years was an old well that stood just outside the front door.  The water from this well was unusually cold and pure and a joy to drink, and the well was remarkable because it never ran dry.  Even in the severest summer droughts, when other families would be forced to resort to the lake for their drinking water, our old well faithfully yielded up its cool, clear water. old well

          Eventually the day came when the family fortunes improved, and it was decided to modernize the house.  Electricity now replaced the old kerosene lamps; an electric stove took over from the ancient kerosene burner; and modern plumbing and running water were installed.  This necessitated a modern well, and accordingly a deep artesian well was drilled a few hundred feet from the house.  No longer needed, the old well near the front door was sealed over to be kept in reserve should an occasion arise when for some reason the artesian well would not suffice.

          So things stood for several years until one day, moved by curiosity and old loyalties, I determined to uncover the old well to inspect its condition.  As I removed the cover, I fully expected to see the same dark, cool, moist depths I had known so well as a boy.  But I was due for a shock, for the well was bone dry.

          It took many inquiries on our part to understand what had happened.  A well of this kind is fed by hundreds of tiny underground rivulets along which seeps a constant supply of water.  As water is drawn from the well, more water moves into it along the rivulets, keeping these tiny apertures clear and open. But when such a well is not used and the water is not regularly drawn, the tiny rivulets close up.  Our well, which had run without failing for so many years, was dry not because there was no water but because it had not been used.

          The human soul is like this well.  What happened to the old well can also happen to our souls if the living water of God does not flow into us.


So step away from your tablet, get out from behind your desk, get off the sofa, and get some exercise. Then get on your knees, and exercise your soul.

Use it, or lose it, folks.




If you follow this silly little blog at all—or have nosed around it any when you have stumbled across it sometime, then you probably know that every summer I head down to Guayaquil, Ecuador for a week with a dozen other men, where in partnership with Hogar de Cristo (Homes of Christ), we build anywhere from seven to ten simple split bamboo homes for some of the poorest of the poor in the world.

It’s hard work, it is rewarding work, and the trip and experiences give men a chance to be real men, working with their hands, but also coming face to face with the devastation that extreme poverty brings to those who live in it. At any moment, while working, guys may be laughing their heads off at something that has happened or that someone has said, but by the same token, they may be in tears, looking in the eyes of a single mother with five children who has nothing—and I mean NOTHING—to feed her children that day. Looking out over the horizon, seeing hut after hut after hut, and passing hovel after hovel, we are struck by how richly blessed we are, and how we who have been thus blessed, are charged to serve the world, in God’s name. We are blessed, not so that we can say we are blessed—but so that we can be a blessing to others.

Haul lumber for a couple of days in a row; swing a hammer all day long for a few days; lift and carry materials, cut lumber, and do it all with no power tools, in the direct sun, two degrees south of the equator, and you’ll feel my pain.

So last year, after we returned, I talked to my friend (and Peachtree Presbyterian member) Randy Nicholson about an idea. Randy is a former World Kickboxing Champion (yes, you read that right: WORLD), and he owns and runs Fitness Firm Studio in Sandy Springs My idea was that Randy would design something for the guys going to Ecuador, to help us get ready—physically—for what we will face.

He agreed, and I talked him through what is involved in a build. Today—at 6:00 this morning—I showed up to go through the workout myself.

Now, I like to think that at 55, I’m in fairly good shape. Admittedly I am 40 pounds lighter than I was this time last year, thanks to my Doctor telling me to go on the Mediterranean Diet. I still cycle several days a week, jog a couple of days a week, and lift weights a couple of days a week.

And, in all candor, I rode about 7 or 8 miles on my bike early this morning before heading to Randy’s studio. Maybe not the best idea ever. Because he kicked my butt.

Not physically, as he could, given his kickboxing skills, but metaphorically, as I simply ran out of gas. At one point, doing squats while lifting a 15-pound weight over my head, I looked at Randy and said, “I’m lightheaded.”

Randy did not hesitate, but said, “OK, that’s it. You’re done. There’s no coming back from lightheaded. Go stretch.”

Nothing I did was particularly hard, but let me tell you, it was steady. Far different from the aerobic base stuff I am used to doing, and as I watched my heart rate, I was staying in the 135-145 range (like in the 80-90% of my range?!) I was working my core in ways I am not used to working it, and in a steady, consistent, wear-you-down, kick-your-*** manner.

Eight and a half hours later, and I’m still tired.

And I can’t wait to go back tomorrow and do it again.

I refuse to be beaten, and I am going to reach Ecuador in better shape than ever before.

I just hope I can finish the darn workout tomorrow!