Love turns work into rest. -St. Teresa of Avila
Have you ever experienced this? Have you ever worked on something that didn’t feel like work? In fact, it gave you clarity and peace? Love does that. When we are drawn to something out of love or because love has inspired us, the work we do doesn’t feel like work. Yet another mystery of the human condition entwined in God’s love.
Passions, Talents, and Missions
To each of us, He gives different gifts. For some, it might be singing, or problem-solving, or organization, or any number of talents. We are drawn in by these passions that allow us to be our true selves, to pursue greatness in the gifts we’ve been given. As we get to know ourselves, and as we share our gifts with others, we also get to know God.
For me, one of areas in my life that doesn’t feel like work but actually gives rest, is running. Granted, I don’t feel this way every second I’m on a run (hello, summer humidity). But I’m grateful I have discovered my love of running because it truly (paradoxically) gives me rest. My body might be struggling and working. But my mind and my heart gets to retreat, to rest. I can clear my thoughts, pray, and find peace within while I run.
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Finding those passions that give us rest is so important. When we give our hearts space to be still, our souls can settle on Jesus. That small voice whispering to us can finally be heard.
Ways to Incorporate Faith Into Fitness and Fitness Into Faith
Whether or not running or fitness has been something you’ve enjoyed before, there seems to be a mysterious, beautiful connection between physical activity and mental peace. It is good to rest and it is also good to move. Finding movement that allows us to rest our restless hearts is even better.
If you’re an ultramarathoner, or training for your first 5K, or if you’re working on goals in cycling, Pilates, rowing, strength training, or any other kind of physical fitness, below are some suggestions to invite God into that time and to make it prayerful.
1. Make a Plan
The first step in setting out towards any goal is to make a plan. Just as you articulate goals for yourself in your career, you should do the same with your fitness and your faith. While training for a half or full marathon, runners typically follow a plan. It begins small with shorter runs, but gradually builds in intensity and endurance as runs get longer.
A huge part of training, though, is about being consistent. Usually, these training plans have runners running on the same days of the week, and the only thing that might change is the pace or distance.
Another important factor is paying attention to your body:what hurts, what might need support, where you need to stretch more.
The same is true of our spiritual practices. We need to make a plan and be consistent. If you stick to a plan of working out 30 minutes a day, five days a week, you should make similar goals to be consistent in spending time with God. Planning to pray 20 minutes every day, or to go to Adoration monthly, helps you stay focused and consistent. But it’s equally important to pay attention to our souls:what hurts, what might need support, where you need to stretch more.
Once we identify these areas that need more attention, it is vital to our health and flourishing that we find what we need. That could be counseling, an accountability partner, or a spiritual director.
Once you make your plan for fitness and faith, use the time to pray. There are a number of incredible faith-focused podcasts to listen to while you workout. These reflections and conversations offer food for thought while you train.
One of the beautiful things about seeking time to run or workout is the time to rest and think without constant stimulation. You might want to leave your phone at home and just take in nature or take a breath. As St. Therese of Lisieux said:
Prayer is a surge of the heart, it is a simple look turned toward heaven, it is a cry of recognition and of love, embracing both trial and joy.
Striking up a conversation with God in the midst of a busy day can be difficult. So praying openly with Him while on a run or working out might give you the space to share the trials and joys of your day with Him.
3. Find Community
It is critical to any successful training plan (be it fitness or faith-focused) to have a community behind you. Find the people who support, encourage, and inspire you. Find someone to run with, or plan to meet friends at the gym.
Find community on social media, uplifting one another and offering daily words of encouragement. Some of my favorites on Instagram include:
- and so many more
Connect with other women who are striving for the same or similar goals in their faith and fitness. This is a sure way of encountering Christ, for “where two or three have gathered together in [His] name, [He is] there in their midst” (Matthew 18:20).
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Mary Grace Mangano is a high school English teacher in Harlem, New York, having also taught middle school Language Arts and Religion in Chicago. She has written for Verily, Darling magazine, The Catholic Woman, and other publications. She is passionate about education and social justice, loves writing poetry, running, reading, hiking, and learning new things. You can find out more about her here.