Friday, October 21, 2011

Settling in…

After a long hiatus, I began regularly exercising again mid-July. And as you might expect, it’s been a blessing. The break in my previous workout routine wasn’t planned, or even desired, but then again, they never are, right?! It started around the time we bought a puppy, I’ve noticed, but I’ll try not to blame Fawkes. Anyway, the point is I’ve rejoined the ranks of the regularly exercising. Yeah!

It’s different this time, however. Rather than lift weights, now I’m running. I find this funny, since running has always seemed like torture to me. And thus, for the first few weeks , I ran regularly, but I haaaated it! Part of the issue was that those days were wickedly hot. Plus- of course- was the fact I was wickedly out of shape. But mostly, I’ve learned, was that I’d never accepted something a good runner must: you can’t win the race if you burn yourself out on mile 1.

This lesson hit me one morning early August, when for whatever reason, I decided to go slow. Typically, before then, I wouldn’t allow myself such sluggishness. I’d always “push myself,” go faster, trying to keep up with, well, who knows! But that morning I felt tired or entitled, since I’d run the previous four. Regardless the cause, I started running and settled into what felt like a snail’s pace. And what’s more, I kept at that pace despite frequent feelings of needing to speed up. But what do you know: When I finished that run, I’d gone farther, faster, with fewer stops than ever before!

Which makes sense, theoretically, Slow and Steady wins the race and all that. Still, it’s one thing to know what works, and another to feel it, in your bones. After that run, I felt it, and it was a milestone for me. Suddenly, running was no longer torture, but a legitimate exercise activity. Strange, my friends, but true.

Well- surprise, surprise- I have since spiritualized the experience, figuring that what works for distance running might have other applications too. Like, say, prayer, and especially developing a daily pattern in one’s life. Have you ever tried doing this after a time of not praying much? I have, and like my first experiences of jogging this summer, I began way too fast. I’d expect of myself, say, thrice daily for significant minutes each time. Or I’d get three prayer books and ‘commit’ to reading from them all, every day. Unsurprisingly, that created burnout, and it settled in quick. Thus, the daily prayer experiment ended before it really got going.

Other times, however, I’ve treated prayer (and this applies to most spiritual practices, really, like meditation, scripture reading, fasting, journaling, cooking…) much like my body. I’ve recognized it can be disciplined, trained, built up and strengthened. But it takes time to move from one level to the next, as your spirit get more used to strenuous, lengthy exercise. Like my body while running, my spirit while praying is susceptible to fatigue and burnout. And this comparison works particularly well when you think about God’s reaction.

Do you think God expects us all, already, always, to be marathon-trained prayer athletes? Or is it God’s desire to simply hear from us, be with us in prayer more regularly? Answer: B. Which you know as well

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