Of course we’ll exercise — as soon as we’re in better shape

Getting started is always the hardest part.

I started a new fitness regime recently, so I am now the authority on starting and can preach to you. (Insert smiley face.) By next month I’ll probably have to write a column on finishing, as that is right next to starting in the catalogue of failure.

St. Paul thought success in the spiritual life had a parallel in the physical: “Athletes exercise self-control in all things; they do it to receive a perishable wreath, but we an imperishable one.”

Before we get to the spiritual, then, let’s look at the physical.

A recent study of heart-bypass surgery patients showed that 90 percent of those who were told by their doctors that they had to make certain lifestyle changes in order to ensure a healthy future either did not do so, or tried to but quickly reverted back to their old ways. In other words, the report said, “One in nine would rather die than change. Even death was not a sufficient motivator for making changes.”

Similarly, an article on fitness addressed the difficulty of overcoming our excuses for not exercising. Here were some of the top mental evasions: “I’ll exercise as soon as I’m in better shape.” Hmm. That would be never, without exercise. “I’ll exercise as soon as it’s not so uncomfortable.” It will only get more comfortable after you start exercising. “I’ll exercise as soon as my schedule clears up.” Right, and who controls your schedule? “I’ll exercise as soon as I figure out where to start.” Here. Now.

Apparently other people are like me. You?

The poet Billy Collins talks about the difficulty of getting started writing poems. In “Advice to Writers,” he counsels that first you should clean everything in sight — the walls and floors of the study, for instance. Maybe even go outside and wipe off the underside of rocks. Because we all know that “spotlessness is the niece of inspiration./ The more clean, the more brilliant/ your writing will be.” And in “Purity,” he describes his preparation process for writing that includes making a fresh pot of tea, closing the door of his study, carefully taking all his clothes off, and “then I remove my flesh and hang it over a chair./ I slide it off my bones like a silken garment./ I do this so that what I write will be pure.”

We avoid starting in the spiritual life because we know it’s hard work and we want to jump to the end of it right away — being strong and wise without the pain of the process that requires patience for progress. We find every excuse not to start.

Two things can help. Heart patients that succeeded found they did better when they did it with others, and when they focused on the joy of healthy living instead of what they had to give up to get it.

Spiritual fitness is aided by having workout buddies. Find a community of faith that will welcome you when you come and miss you when you don’t. Let others help as you grow together. And keep in mind that the gift of abundant life comes to those who put themselves in position to receive it. You can’t get to the end of where you hope to be without starting where you are. Ready, set, start.


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