My prayer life has suffered lately. I have been feeling a bit adrift and wondering why prayer hasn’t seemed to be happening much this summer. Busy? Yes, but that isn’t new. Not enough time in nature? No, there have been plenty of walks around the lake and time spent in the garden watching birds and butterflies. Too much going on at home or church? Usually the case, but prayer doesn’t automatically fall off the schedule.
I was starting to get concerned when finally, I found where I had put my prayer life. I found it in my gym bag right between my shoes and my iPod. During the school year I have a consistent date with an elliptical machine and some free weights at the Y, but summer vacation for my daughter meant that my workout bag ended up in the same corner of the closet with her school bag as pool time replaced fitness center time. Last week as I snuck in a much needed workout I realized that most of my prayer time happens when I step onto those cardio machines, turn to my workout playlists and get moving. While I’m warming up I’m warming up my prayers too. The easy prayers come flowing first. Conversation begins as a one-way litany of thanks for the gifts I’ve been given and my gratitude for God’s presence and grace. Thank you for my family, my friends, my church. Thank you, thank you, thank you for lungs, for tress, for stories, for music, smiles, laughter, sleep–the lists goes on.
Muscles warmed, body into a rhythm, heart beating faster I move on to the “harder” prayers. I pray about global pains. I pray about my private pains and the pains I know of in the families of church folks or friends. I turn my attention to those people or situations where I have a hard time being grace-full. I talk about those things that confound me to the point where I want to give up. Those people that I’d rather dismiss, or worse yet, hold in the bondage of my own grudges. I ask for humility and openness to release my clenched fists and warm the parts of my heart gone cold. I ask God for forgiveness and a clean heart. Sweating and feeling the endorphins coursing, I relish the constant movement and rhythm that makes it easier for me to think more clearly. I’m done talking, for now, and am just aware of being in God’s presence as I push through the workout toward those blessed 5 minute cool downs.
Finished with the cardio machine and iPod put away, I head to my favorite part of the workout–the free weights. Steady and in control, I listen. Counting reps and sets keeps me from flitting from thought to thought and I just wait. I wait for that word, that feeling of being wrapped in God’s care, that peace which passes all understanding. It is my time to just listen. Sometimes I hear nothing but silence. Other times, though, I seem to hear a nod, a correction, an affirmation, receive insight or a blessing. Sometimes I even get a sermon idea!!!
Going to the mat I end my routine (workout and prayer) by stretching (my muscles and myself). This is time that has been vital in changing how I live with myself. I take this time to give thanks and honor God for giving me the gift of my own body. Instead of criticizing my arms for their little flap, I give thanks that I can hug my daughter and husband many times a day. Instead of fussing about my legs, I give thanks that they get me from one place to another and that I can stand strong before my congregation and lead prayers or preach. Instead of wishing for tight abs, I give thanks that I am healthy and well just as I am. I practice seeing myself as God sees me, as God’s child, and not as I think I ought to look. After an hour and half spent with God I am relaxed, renewed, and connected to both God and myself. I’ve tried many different prayer practices over the years, some more seriously than others, and by the grace of God I have found my place of prayer again…at the Y.