Everyone knows the importance of regular exercise. Working out keeps you trim and toned. It also strengthens your heart and lungs and builds endurance. We are both physical and spiritual creatures. Working out the body won’t do us much good if we neglect the health and strength of our souls. Here is a daily workout that will keep you spiritually healthy.
Warming up before any serious exercise is critical. These gentle movements get the blood flowing to the muscles. Skipping the warm-up and rushing right to the heavy lifting leads to injuries.
In the same way, we often wake up anxious about the day, checking the clock and making to-do lists. We end up lifting the weight day without a proper warm-up. A good spiritual warm-up involves offering to God all your “prayers, works, joys, and sufferings” of the day. You can personalize your offering, presenting God your household duties, work commute or interactions with that miserable coworker.
Offering these to God first thing in the morning reminds you they’re gifts God has given you, not just burdens to carry. This sanctifies your efforts and provides many opportunities to grow in grace.
Lifting weights is essential to building muscle, kick-starting your metabolism and supporting your body’s frame. The wonderful thing about working out with weights is that the body continues to grow stronger hours after the workout ends.
The spiritual equivalent is mid-day prayer. Instead of eating lunch at your desk or joining coworkers at the deli, take a walk. Sit in your car. Find someplace to be alone with God for a few minutes. Many people simply bow their heads to remember Jesus’s sacrifice. Others pray the Prayer of St. Francis, “Lord, make me an instrument of your peace….”
In the same way strength training replaces fat with muscle, this afternoon prayer break will burn off worry and frustration and replace them with thoughts of praise, love and gratitude.
Cardio exercise, getting your heart pumping, helps you stay lean and build endurance for difficult tasks. You can also do cardio a little at a time throughout the day, such as taking the stairs instead of the elevator, parking far from the front door or marching in place doing dishes.
You can do spiritual cardio too. By making simple aspirations in your heart, you are in constant conversation with God. Aspirations are little prayers, just a few words you can say any time. For example, “My Jesus, I trust in you,” “O God, have mercy,” “Thank you, Lord, for your blessings.” You might write short Scripture verses in your planner to read throughout the day. Although these are little prayers, they build a habit of calling on our loving God that becomes natural when troubles arise. This is spiritual endurance.
Having a strong core protects your back and stabilizes your frame, not just for exercising but also for day-to-day activities like vacuuming and carrying groceries. People who do planks, pushups and crunches while working out are more flexible, have better balance and are less prone to back injuries. They also see a transformation in their bodies.
The core of what we believe is in Scripture. Even if you feel like you can’t fit one more thing into your day, make time for daily Bible reading. It is essential for life balance, to avoid sin that can paralyze your faith journey and to see God’s will in everything that comes your way.
Rest and hydration
You don’t need a personal trainer to know how important it is to rest and stay hydrated. Sore muscles, weakness and cramping occur when you don’t take time to recuperate and replenish your fluids after working out.
Your spiritual life requires rest, too. It is even more important to spend quiet time with God than it is to recover from a physical workout. Resting in God is what we’re meant to do, to be at peace in his presence, to be open to his love for us. Sitting in silence is not a sign of weakness or a waste of time any more than is getting a good night’s sleep. You don’t have to talk. Just drink in his great love for you and allow him to refresh your soul.
Cool down and stretch
Finally, after working out in any capacity, it’s important to cool down and stretch. This helps reduce the fatigue in your muscles and speeds recovery. Without stretching, you might be sore for days. You might even tear a tight muscle, preventing you from doing even normal activities.
Spiritually, you need to stretch at the end of the day by examining your conscience. Starting all the way back to when you made your morning offering, trace through the day, your conversations, your opportunities to make good or bad choices. Have a conversation with God about it. Acknowledge the moments you aren’t proud of, the things you could’ve done differently. Ask his forgiveness and his help.
Confession is a gift to us, an offering of forgiveness and mercy. Like a good massage, confession allows Jesus to press deep into our souls and work out the kinks. Confessing our sins reconciles us with God and gives us grace to resist temptation.
Make the time
St. Francis de Sales said, “Everyone needs half an hour of prayer each day. Except when we’re busy—then we need an hour.” If we’re willing to set aside thirty to sixty minutes a day to exercise our bodies, we should also be willing to spend time to strengthen and tone our souls. The rewards are eternal.