Thursday, June 10, 2010

Exercise as Prayer

To understand where I am going with this week's Theology Thursday, you first need to know that I have hated exercise, in nearly any form, for all of my adult life. I could tolerate swimming laps, but after my kids were born, stopping by the health club to swim a few dozen laps meant dealing with childcare hassles. The winter that BigBro was 2 and Princess was a baby, I managed the hassles, but spent more time in the pediatrician's office with sick kids than in the pool. Since LilBro's birth, I refused to consider any form of exercise that meant leaving my kids in a germ-filled health club "daycare" room.

Three years ago, I came to the revelation that not caring for my body was a sin. It set a bad example for my kids, didn't show proper respect for my body as a temple of the Holy Spirit, and would likely lead to preventable illnesses and early death.

And so began my trip on the merry-go-round of misery. I would ignore any thoughts of exercise for the entire month. The night before my Spiritual Direction meeting, I would look over an examination of conscience and note that I'm not taking proper care of myself. I would confess the sin. Father would assign me an open-ended penance, something like: "get 30 minutes of exercise 3-4 times per week." I'd comply for a week or two, miss a few days, and lose my focus.

Lather. Rinse. Repeat.

Occasionally, I'd string together a month or two of reasonably frequent exercise before giving up. It didn't matter, though. Over and over again, I would find myself not-exercising, with plenty of "good" reasons why I didn't/couldn't/wouldn't/shouldn't.

In May 2009, I sat in Father's office. I'd stopped exercising again, and had no desire to do it. None at all. "And please don't assign me the penance of exercising, because I won't do it. I know that right now; I won't do it. And then I'll have the sin of not doing my penance on my conscience, too. Please," I begged.

Father took pity on me offered this penance instead: pray for the desire to care for yourself as a beloved child of God.

I felt like I'd won the jackpot. All I have to do for my penance is pray? No laps around the neighborhood? No early-morning walks? Just some prayers? Yee-haw!

Well, those of you who read my blog regularly know how that worked out. But you may not know exactly how I got from there to here.

I prayed my penance faithfully. About three weeks into it, I was kneeling in the pew at my "summer parish," after receiving the Eucharist one Thursday morning. Suddenly, in the deep recesses of my head were the words, "you need to start running." I dismissed the thought. I don't run. Ever. For any reason.

But it stayed with me, nonetheless. And, being the lazy person I am, I rationalized. I could run for 15 minutes and get the same workout as walking for 45. Hmmmmm. Maybe running would work after all. But not today. No one starts a new workout on a Thursday. Monday. Yeah, Monday I'll start running.

And I did. Slowly at first, running for a minute and walking for a minute. I'd been doing it for about 2 weeks before I even mentioned it to DH.

Very quickly, I realized that if I were going to run, I needed to pray. Prayer was not an option. This running idea did not come from me; the only way I'd succeed was to turn it all over to God. So, as my muscles and lungs strengthened, so did my prayer life.

It's been a year now since I started running. I've learned a lot about the sport. I've run two races. I've read books and websites. I'm on my second pair of running shoes. And I pray before, during, and especially after my runs.

Running opens me up to God in a way few activities do. It drains me of my ego, wears me out, and leaves me panting and sweaty, fully aware of just how strong I'm not, just how "together" I'm not, just how much I do, in fact, need a Savior.

Every time I finish a run, whether a short 1-miler or a longer run, whether on the treadmill, on the trail, or around the track, I stop, stretch, and pray.

In that prayer time, I am open, spent, ego-less. All of the "monkey voices" in my head, all of my wants have been huffed and puffed right out of me. All that is left is an aching desire for God... a deep, gaping hole in my soul that longs to be filled by Him.

I stretch. I sit. I breathe deeply. "Lord," I pray. "I am yours."


  1. This post is really inspiring. Thanks for sharing. Great point! Prayer helps.

  2. I am struggling with exercise too. I keep saying I'll start and then there is some excuse. I loved what you wrote, it is an encouragement to me.