Both prayer and exercise have to be more than an item on the to-do list
The beginning of 2016 saw me 10 pounds heavier despite having gone to the gym on a semi-regular basis last year. At first, I went with vigor, but my body told me with every step on the treadmill how much it hated moving. Afterward, my brain would call out, “You did your part, that’s great. Let’s eat! I’m starving” and I’d blow all the progress by eating the wrong thing. I told myself it was still progress because I hadn’t worked out before, but was it really? Going to the gym wasn’t enough. I had to change something about how I looked at food, how I cooked and when and what I ate, if I wanted to make real progress.
Likewise that for years I prayed the rosary every day. If I forgot to finish, I finished it the next day without fail. Then I hit a wall, and the wall grew bigger each day that I didn’t pray the rosary, until the whole idea of the rosary made me agitated and overwhelmed. I railed against myself, knowing we’re not just supposed to say the rosary, we’re supposed to meditate on the mysteries. But how could I meditate on the mysteries if I couldn’t even summon the energy to say the prayer?
Nothing seemed to help. Sometimes I’d put “rosary” on the to-do list, sometimes I’d put the beads in my pocket. I even put an app on my phone to make it easier. I begged God for help. I asked my deceased father for help. The very next day the Legion of Mary came by with the statue of Mary to visit our home for two weeks; during those two weeks it was easier, but when the statue left, so did my capacity to make it through the prayer.
I tried combining the two trials: my physical need to get healthier and my desire to pray but found I do not multitask well. Huffing the Hail Marys, my workout would be woeful and my prayers would be poor.
Since I couldn’t find any other way to make the rosary work, I stopped. The gym membership also began to be used less, as results did not improve.
Recently, a Sunday Mass was a difficult experience. One daughter talked all the way through the liturgy while another refused to participate. Two of my sons had a silent war, and the youngest sprawled himself on the pew. I felt thwarted by the music and unable to hear God or be fully present. I reached for the baptismal water being thrown in our direction and felt a keen disappointment none of it hit.
The next day I felt the soreness of my soul in my bones. I was fatigued. Everything looked exhausting. Desperate for something to help me get going, I flipped on Catholic radio. The program wasn’t my favorite; in fact, the host was one I normally turn off because I found his style too abrasive. But that day his hard scrubbing seemed to soothe and smooth rather than agitate, and as the priest talked, I found myself refreshed. He talked about how much we need to not just need Mary but love her. He begged us not to use Mary but to love her, and assured that if we love her – through the rosary — she would show us her son, and teach us how easy it is to love him.
Mary, he said, wanted a real relationship with me, and thus I’d been given the gift of dryness, of not being able to make a prayer that had once come easily.
With his words penetrating deeply, I went through each of my children’s rooms and cleaned. The house looked better than it had in weeks. The weariness I had felt suddenly left.
How easy. It was easy! Why had it been so hard?
For the same reason exercising had become so difficult. I wasn’t taking either my prayer life or my physical care seriously: both were boxes to check off, and when I failed to check them, they became a negative charge. What they needed to be was a willful choice: to serve God by being a good steward of my soul and its tabernacle.
In case you’re curious, I grabbed the rosary and headed out to the gym.
Sherry Antonetti is a former special educator and currently a freelance writer and mother of 10. She writes at Catholicmom.com and her blog, Chocolate for Your Brain. E-mail her at firstname.lastname@example.org.