I had some sort of respiratory virus at the beginning of Lent that knocked me down for a week and then kept me lethargic and coughing for another week. I’m glad it happened during Lent because it created both a spiritual and physical battle that happened side-by-side so that I could see how very similar the two battles were.
On account of the illness, I ended up missing Ash Wednesday Mass and the first Sunday Mass of Lent. Without those opening ceremonies to the penitential season coupled with the lethargy that comes after a taxing sickness, it was most difficult to get myself feeling Lent-y.
It was the same with my fitness regimen. I’d been working on adding a mile to my run and bumping up the weights I’d been lifting but now I was having a difficult time even motivating myself to go down and walk on the treadmill.
In both realms, I ended up falling into easy routines that were neither making much in the way of spiritual gains nor the physical gains I’d been seeking. The routines were comfortable and numbing. I hate feeling numb. It is always a sure sign of atrophy. I knew I had to do something to break out of the grooves I was stuck in.
We had weeks of cold, rainy days. The weather made it hard to motivate myself out of the acediac funk I found myself in. I couldn’t get myself to get out of bed early for the prayer and Lenten reading I wanted to do before the rest of the house woke up. And if I didn’t get it done early while everyone was asleep, it didn’t get done.
The weather also made it difficult to run outside so I had to go downstairs day after day to the treadmill. I hate the treadmill. I was still feeling sluggish so the most I could persuade myself to do was walk while watching a 90s sitcom. And, of course, dealing with my children coming downstairs and tattling on each other every 10 minutes.
Thankfully, the Lord stepped in and provided a beautiful break in both the weather and my sloth – a sunny day in the 60s. I would expect nothing less from a God who said he would vomit the lukewarm from his mouth, in that I had grown lukewarm in every way. I took advantage of both the gorgeous weather and the growing disgust with myself and forced myself to go out for a run for the first time in weeks.
It was, of course, initially painful. My lungs and legs had to reacclimate to the fresh air, the hills and the faster pace. My heart had to get re-used to being jump-scared by dogs on the route who seemed to magically appear as I ran alongside their fences. My brain had to get reaccustomed to thinking of higher things than 90s situational comedy. It also had to get reaccustomed to the peace of not having my children constantly tattle on each other which was more difficult for them to do when I wasn’t trapped in the basement on the treadmill.
By the second mile, it was bliss. I was warmed-up, the strides came easier and my lungs found their run rhythm. That’s all it took. The initial impetus to actually get out there and run again followed by that first difficult mile and, after that, it felt like I hadn’t taken a break.
I knew in a couple of days I was going to be sore as the dickens but I was glad for it. Because being sore meant I wouldn’t be numb anymore. I’d run through the pain until my body was used to the daily runs outside again and then I’d be back at my goals, having shaken off the lethargy. Being sore led to feeling good whereas feeling numb led to feeling repugnant.
Once I broke out of my physical ennui, it was pretty easy to break out of the spiritual ennui. Which is why we practice physical disciplines–such as abstaining from sweets–during penitential seasons. Physical discipline leads to spiritual discipline. The first morning was the most difficult but after the alarm went off, I thought of how good my run had felt and I made myself jump out of bed to get my spiritual life back on track too. Once I got over the hump of getting up early that first day, it was easy to get back to consistent prayer and readings. After that, I was back in my Lenten spiritual practices like I’d never left them.
We all stumble and find it hard to get up again at times, whether in the physical or spiritual world. I may have missed the opening ceremonies of Lent, but after pulling myself up and getting back into the race, I’m hoping to fly over that finish line at Easter to claim my trophy of chocolate for the closing ceremony.