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.




It was supposed to be a simple, run of the mill, ordinary Friday morning ride on the Silver Comet Trail. I do this most Fridays between late March and early October, when the weather is not too cool, and assuming the rains are not too awful, and I am in town. More often than not, I am on the Trail by 7:30 for a ride that depending on the time of year and the rest of my life (and schedule) may be anywhere from 25 miles (short) to 60 or more miles (which I like). This past Friday, with a number of things going on, I decided to ride 30 or 35 miles.
It was not too hot, but then again it was not cool, and the humidity and the temperature were pushing one another to see who would get highest before I got off the bike. I started out, feeling OK (not great, but not sluggish, which I can be sometimes), thinking that I’d just put the miles in.
And then it happened.
Some guy had the audacity to come put of nowhere and pass me in the first two miles. The instant he passed me, I thought, “Oh, boy. Here we go. The race is on.”
I let him get about fifty yards ahead of me, and then I attached the elastic, not letting him pull any further away, just holding him at that distance, sometimes closing in on him, sometimes letting him pull away. At one point, and for a stretch, I closed in well enough hat I was drafting him, and he had no idea. We rolled up to an intersection, and when he turned to look for traffic and saw me in his peripheral vision, he jumped like a stuck pig. I think he thought he had dropped me and left me in his dust. That’s when I started playing with him. I let the rope out, and let him build his confidence up, then I reeled him back in, and let him see that I was right there on his shoulder. I let the rope out again, and reeled him in. I was playing tapes from the broadcast of the Tour de France in my mind, and Phil Liggett was singing my praises. I was having fun, feeling great, and having the ride of my life. The competition with this guy was pushing me, but I was fine with that. I was pushing right back.
As we approached the 15 mile mark, I let the rope out and watched to see what he would do. As I predicted, he circled a parking lot, and stopped, obviously turning around. My plan was to keep going, and I did. I went past him sitting there, nodded, and kept going, never looking back. “Beat him,” I said.
I hit the 17.5 mile mark and turned around, stopping for a moment to eat a bar and check to see if I’d gotten any emails that demanded attention. None, good, get back on the bike.
I was flying, feeling great, drinking enough so I would not cramp, and marveling that I was riding so well. As I approached the intersection at the 11.5 mile mark on the way back in, I was feeling good enough that I decided not to stop at the small parking lot/rest area where I often take a short break. I mean, I was now racing myself, thinking that this was going to be a benchmark ride.
Then it happened.
As I reached that intersection, I looked to my left and saw no cars on the road. I looked right, and saw a car approaching. I was riding fast (that’s “FAST,” in Eric Liddell’s Scottish brogue from Chariots of Fire), and did not want to break my rhythm or ruin my average MPH by stopping. But a quick evaluation let me know that I could not safely cross without endangering myself. “But I can turn right on the sidewalk, go those twenty feet to that driveway, make a left-hand U-turn onto the road, then pick the Trail back up, and keep going.” I did it.
And something happened. I’m not sure what, but the instant I turned onto the sidewalk, something took me and swung me sideways; whether I over-turned, or slid on grass clippings or leaves or a wet spot, I don’t know. But the next thing I knew, I was hitting a street sign post broadside, my left shoulder (yes, the one surgically repaired a year and a half ago), my left forearm, my knee, my helmet, and THE BIKE, all slamming into the post, then my force slingshotting me around it and I am now laying on the ground. Testosterone instinct kicked in, and I started laughing in case anyone saw me. The car stopped, so I sat up quickly, still laughing, and when the driver rolled the window down I waved to show that I was OK (I was not), and they drove off. I stood up, looking at my shoulder pretty baBike damagenged up, and worked it to make sure I’d not destroyed it. I flexed my knee, then saw the bike. An ugly scar on the top tube, screaming “I’m carbon fiber! Am I safe to ride?”
I examined the damage as best I could, tapped and checked it out, thought about calling home for a ride, but then I heard German cyclist Jens Voight telling me to man up and ride in. So I did.
It hurt pretty badly, but I rode that last 11 miles watching the crack on the top tube, willing it to be only in the paint, and made it back to my car with no problems. Well, no further problems. I racked the bike, looked at my watch (“Oh, yeah–I killed my expensive Garmin GPS watch, too.”), checked the dashboard clock, and realized the bike shop would be opening in a minute, so I went and had the bike checked out.
They said they thought it was OK, but it would be wise to keep an eye on it. I have ridden some since then, but have also found a carbon fiber bike repair spot that is convinced they can cure me for less than $200. Better safe than sorry, so I’ll give them the job next week.
But it all got me to thinking, that it was my dadgum competitive fire that did this. Had I not chased and raced that other fellow, had I taken ten more second of a break, or not been trying to cross that intersection without breaking my rhythm, I would have missed this entirely.
Burned by competitive fire, and I was the one stoking the flames myself.