At nine months postpartum, I was using the excuse of still nursing my youngest to not pay much attention to what kind of food and how much of it I was putting into my body.
I blamed my crankiness on being tired from mothering three children ages four and under while managing a freelance writing and editing business. I was convinced that unless I ran six miles a day (not possible) and included kale in every other meal (double not possible), that was how it was going to be. I tried to ignore what I perceived as vanity and thus cultivated a sense of spiritual guilt. I was made in the image and likeness of God, so shouldn’t I love my body as it was, no questions asked?
Really, the burden was more than pounds on the scale or inches at my waist. I was unhappy with the state I’d let myself get into. I didn’t want to play on the floor with the kids, because it meant tugging up my jeans to a place they wouldn’t stay. I stayed up too late, reading or watching TV, trying to find something that would fill the hole I was living in, and woke up tired again the next day. The time I spent in the morning worrying about what I’d wear made me crabby and late.
A friend’s Facebook post was the tipping point that made me realize that how I felt, how I spent my precious time on earth did matter. The message was something to the tune of, “If not now, then when?” My mind, my body, and my soul are all connected, and I needed to find a way to recognize and honor that. It was time to make some changes.
With the same friend as an accountability partner, I started eating healthier and I devoted just seven minutes each morning to exercise. These shamefully obvious changes were manageable, and they made a difference.
Yes, my body is a gift from God, a temple of the Holy Spirit. I should be grateful for it, no matter its state. But that doesn’t mean I shouldn’t be taking good care of it, too.
My physical renewal ran parallel with a spiritual renewal. I learned this is true self-care: honoring the body I was given as a daughter of God, not to fit into a dress I’d deemed the right size, but so that I could better serve my Creator and God in my vocation. When I was fed with what I needed, I could give more of myself. I wanted to give more of myself. I wasn’t looking inside as much anymore, and so my attention was drawn outward. A lot of what I learned about myself and what I need to do to maintain my physical health translates into what I need as a spiritual being.
We are what eat, or better, we are what we consume. Saint Ignatius of Loyola started to navigate a relationship with Christ when he realized how empty he felt after reading stories of knights and honor and how much better he felt when reading the lives of the Saints. When I made more time in my life for spiritual reading (I added ten minutes with a book after my seven minutes of physical exercise), I likewise found my desire to serve enriched.
Spending less time on the couch meant I was more discerning about what movies and television shows I was making time for. I reflected on the books I was reading and started making more prudent choices. I limited the supposedly news websites I was clicking to. I got rid of the junk and replaced it with something that would encourage and inspire me.
When I discovered the daily Decalogue of Saint John XXIII, I wanted to high-five him. He wrote, “Only for today, I will devote ten minutes of my time to some good reading, remembering that just as food is necessary to the life of the body, so good reading is necessary to the life of the soul.” Amen.
Make It Part of Your Routine
A gym membership does no good if you never make it inside. Likewise, the Holy Mass, Confession, the Rosary, the Divine Mercy Chaplet, and spiritual books can’t have an effect in my life unless I chose to engage with them. If you want to see a change in either component of your life, you have to make a change first. Connecting spiritual and physical wellness into a single activity can make a shift in scheduling less overwhelming.
For me, it was that time in the morning. Five minutes to stretch, two to plank, and the next ten spent reading. It was all one motion, one action flowing easily into the next, a more serene breed of circuit training.
For someone else, it might be a run without earbuds in, so that God’s voice can come in more clearly. Or maybe it’s a midday walk to a nearby church for a visit with the Blessed Sacrament. It could be spiritual music in the background while following a workout video on YouTube. Choosing produce from a farmer’s market—or straight from the farm—can be a spiritual experience in itself, a way to feel more connected with the world we live in.
Live in Seasons
Road races work for me as an incentive to make time to workout. Whether it’s a 5K or a full marathon, signing up for a race is a commitment to spend my time differently and to sacrifice other activities to give my all to my goal. A race is something in which my family, especially my husband, can support me, both in the training and at the finish line.
The seasons of Lent and Advent function in an analogous way in the spiritual life. They are more intense training periods intended to break our lesser habits and set our eyes back on the prize.
Not all of life needs to be so focused. Rest periods are important to growth, as well. Balance is key, and there’s no shame in asking for help. Whether it’s from a running coach or a spiritual director, guidance from someone with more knowledge and experience can help us see strengths and weaknesses we may not be able to see in ourselves.
Don’t Go It Alone
Though the spiritual journey is a personal one, it’s not one we are intended to walk (or run) alone. The accountability of a gym buddy can get you in the door, and a friendly sense of competition can have you both pushing yourselves a little further, working a little harder, because you know you’re not alone.
Different stages of life, like different stages of training, are best served by different relationships. A prayer group, a virtual book club, letters or texts to check in with a friend you’re praying for, or whom you’ve asked to pray for you may fit for you right now. Let’s not forget the Saints, that great “cloud of witnesses” fist-pumping for us from on high, ready to intercede for us at any moment.
The Blessed is She regional Facebook group one of my favorite prayer communities. Every time I “love” a post, it’s because I’ve said a Hail Mary for the petition. It’s a moment outside of myself that draws our Mother Church a little closer together. Give yourself permission to find the encouragement—and the challenge—that inspires you to be your best self.
Remember Your “Why”
Various situations in life have thrown me off course both physically and spiritually in the time since I started this healthier leg of my life journey. What keeps bringing me back to my habits is the feeling of wholeness and readiness that my morning routine, in particular, yielded.
Life gets busy, and there can be too many day-to-day details to keep track of sometimes. I’ll eat whatever’s in the drawer, as long as it seems it will fill me up for a little while.
I tell myself that chunk of dark chocolate in the afternoon, a TV show to fall into in the evening, or another midday social media check to see if I missed something is a reward—or consolation prize—for how I’m enduring the day. If I’m being honest, these aren’t rewards, but rather escapes from the challenges I face, from my fears of inadequacy or failure as a mom or writer. In a stressful moment, when, with God’s grace, I have forgone one of these indulgences, God consistently fills the space I’d thought was empty with His love. Why am I surprised by this, that when I make room for him on my plate, he completely fills the space, and then some?
God wants more for me than physical health or beauty. He wants me to drink the living water, to feed on His body and blood, to care for my body—this blessed temple of the Holy Spirit—with what will really nourish me. These are whole foods, face-to-face conversations, good books, and the quiet stillness of prayer. In both realms, the difference was made not as much in what I chose to forgo as it was about what I chose to take in.
How will you honor that today and take in the sustenance that will open the eyes and ears of your heart to the Lord?
He is calling you to His table for the most important, life-giving meal you can imagine.
Written by Lindsay Schlegel. Find out more about her here.