This weekend, a few of my friends have done some really cool endurance experiences. One, in Ottawa, completed her first 10km run. Another, in Colorado, climbed the Manitou Springs Incline (2,000ft elevation in one mile!). A third, in the UK, completed a 56km walk (in wet weather) to raise funds for charity. (Suddenly, my 3 mile walk-the-dogs-around-town seems quite lazy!)
There are loads of examples of such feats of endurance popping up in my social media feeds – bike races, marathons, mountain hiking, etc. A common theme throughout them, I’ve noted, is commitment to training. All of them have been working for weeks and months and years to condition themselves to be able to handle the “big event”. They’ve been outside even in terrible weather, they’ve gone to the gym when they’d rather be on the couch, they’ve worked through injury and soreness instead of giving up.
The result: they all succeeded. They did what they set out to do, knowing that their hard work would pay off, knowing that they had conditioned themselves to handle it. They also know that this is not the end, rather this commitment to training has become part of their lifestyle.
Spiritual exercises are, in my opinion, not dissimilar. If we are going to be spiritually fit, we ought to practice. At first, it can be difficult. I often hear folks saying “I don’t know how to pray” or “I just don’t have time for daily prayer”. I’ve also heard folks say “I want to pray more, can you suggest a resource” or “I’m going to make time for God, every day.”
The truth is, we decide how much time and effort we put into our spiritual fitness. And none of us start out as experts. But the difference is we DO start. We may get to a good spiritual health quite quickly or it might take us a while; we might easily fall into a daily routine or we might struggle with finding out what will work for us. We may need support from others around us, we may get distracted or delayed, we may need a set programme to keep us engaged and inspired. But we do engage in a spiritual discipline that works for us, for our lifestyles, for our relationship with God.
Our spiritual exercises are, in these ways, very much like our physical exercises. And when we do commit to them, we find that each day we get a little bit stronger, a little bit more confident, a little bit more committed.
It is then that I think we are more ready to face the big events.
Life throws all sorts of challenges our way, and we know that people of faith generally have an easier way of dealing with them. Whether it’s a big stress like a career change or health scare, or an exciting day like graduation or wedding, or a difficult time like a conflict or a funeral; life happens and we must react. Some things we have control over, many we do not. They are all, however, big events.
For those who are spiritually fit, the big events are a challenge but one for which the spiritual exercises have helped to prepare: folks know on whom they can call for help, they know what prayers are going to be useful, they have experienced which practices may bring them the most calm. And so, relying on that, they endure. It will, undoubtedly, still be a big event, but the journey through it will be less traumatic.
One would not expect to be able to complete a physically demanding endurance exercise without training. One hopes that as Christians we spiritually prepare ourselves for the endurance exercise that is life.