This past year, our family was considering joining the YMCA. Faced with pre-diabetes and auto-immune issues, I knew what was best for me – a healthy diet with a good dose of exercise, a word I have cringed at almost my entire life. Sure, I’ll walk the neighborhood with a friend for an hour (in perfect weather, mind you), or walk the beach, but the decision to work out at the Y required commitment and sacrifice and what I likened to perhaps straight out torture. It was easy to postpone joining until I broke a bone in my foot over the summer and the co-pay cost for physical therapy to regain my mobility afterwards was over three times the cost of joining the Y. So, there we were. A family membership to the YMCA – now it was up to me to use our investment wisely.
My PT specialist said the best equipment for me to start off with at the Y at first would be the stationary bike. The first day I jumped on and made it about five minutes before I thought I couldn’t go a minute longer, until I remembered what he told me – slow and steady – and I made it to twenty. The next day was about the same. I mentally nicknamed it the “torture device” and I was convinced I wouldn’t keep it up for long. It seemed that getting past the point of pain and agony to even remotely find it enjoyable was questionable at best and it was easier to look for ways to avoid it. But, motivated by the fact that I didn’t want to waste money or my wanting to walk the beach at some point again (forget focusing on the health benefits – that didn’t seem to be enough of a motivator!), I persisted. I looked for ways to pass the time – listening to my favorite music, praying the Rosary and offering up the “torture”, reading a book on my phone – and found that focusing on something else that was more of a motivation to me greatly affected my ability to persist. As the weeks went by, it slowly became something I began to look forward to and became convinced it was worth doing. I had passed the “hump” as they say.
I was listening to some of my favorite songs while pushing myself to keep exercising the other day when I was hit with the realization that this same scenario happens in our spiritual life as well. We know what is best for us spiritually – prayer, the sacraments, Mass, etc., but we struggle with even starting towards our goal, afraid we will give up. So, we surround ourselves with all sorts of the latest and best spiritual workout equipment – a beautiful Rosary, the newest prayer book, DVD retreat programs, a statue of our favorite saint. Their alluring appearance beckons to us, promising to transform us into something better, something more beautiful. We decide to face the giant and begin strong, but find we quickly lose steam. We start the Rosary and are immediately distracted, the new prayer book isn’t inspiring us like we had hoped, the narrator on the DVD series has a monotone voice, the statue becomes just another item on the shelf to dust. Struggling with giving up altogether, we say it’s “torture” to stay committed and look for ways to avoid it. With perhaps flawed motivations and our own guilt, however, we find a way to push forward, but are often driven to the point of becoming resentful. What are we then to do?
Unless we look for ways “to pass the time” and persevere until we find those hidden gems that allow us to become more motivated and begin to relish what we are doing, we will not be successful in our ability to persist. Our human tendencies to demand immediate reward for our actions makes it difficult to sometimes see the long-term graces of our efforts. And, unfortunately, many times we too often feel our spiritual life must conform to some preconceived ideals and expectations that we impose upon ourselves, without the prayer and reflection necessary to determine where God might direct us. We fall prey to the “I should do this or I should do that”, regardless of where we are in our own personal spiritual journey. And there, I believe, lies our spiritual demise. Lifeless and without meaning, we simply just give up.
Every day, Jesus offers us His greatest gift – His infinite mercy. He knows our struggles to persist, our flawed motivations, and our guilt. He knows how many times we give up and look for ways to avoid Him. But most of all, He knows that we love Him, and that we are seeking to draw closer to Him. Be merciful to yourself. Tomorrow you can try some of those new “workouts” again. Today, seek Him in a way you perhaps haven’t thought of before. Watch a
sunrise and be intentionally present to Him in all its beauty. Call a friend, laugh, and rejoice in who He created in them. Slip into a church and just sit with Him quietly without a preconceived agenda. Meet Him where you are today and let Him transform you, heart and soul, into the beautifully fit creation He has destined you to become.