People often notice when I eat a piece of cake or have a hamburger and fries at a local sports game. They ask, “Hey, Doc, is that approved by the Church Health Center’s Model for Healthy Living?”
Well, as I write this, I am proud to say that it has been two months since I have eaten any junk, and I eat fruit throughout the day.
I’m also trying hard to maintain exercise in my schedule. But recently I was on my elliptical machine at home when my wife, Mary, rushed in. “Come downstairs right now,” she insisted, “and go outside!”
I replied, “But I haven’t finished exercising. I have another 20 minutes to go.” I was emphatic.
She said, “You need to do this for your spiritual exercise.”
I reluctantly stopped and went to our front yard. When I got there, I found Leo, Ozzie, Will, Max, and Henry playing with the neighborhood dogs alongside their parents. The boys are all under three years old. They were all barefoot and having fun in the simplest of ways. Seeing them immediately put a smile on my face, and I knew what Mary meant by “spiritual exercise.”
One Sunday, I was deeply involved in preparing my lesson for my Sunday school class when I looked up. Leo and Ozzie were taking turns sticking their heads into the spray of the sprinkler watering our lawn. It was another moment of spiritual exercise.
I have three “adopted” nephews who produce this same sort of joy for me. When I get together with them, they put the childhood rascal back into me. Once, after I was babysitting them when they were toddlers, Mary came home to find spaghetti on the walls of her kitchen. I had to coax her into seeing this as an exercise of a spiritual nature. Of course, it doesn’t always work out smoothly. When my spaghetti nephews were younger, I took them to the zoo, and they cried very, very loudly the entire ride there. It was painful.
I trust you see the point of my telling these stories. Exercising the spirit is as important as physical movement. We need to make time for both. And we need a healthy portion as well. Spiritual exercise can pop up at surprising moments, so we should always be ready to engage when it arrives—even if it interrupts what seems like weighty matters.
This is not to say I’m going to use spiritual exercise an excuse to abandon my elliptical or a healthy Mediterranean diet. This is not a cop-out to eat chocolate cake or shorten my aerobic activity. But as I grow old(er), I recognize more and more that I need balance in my life. The boys in the neighborhood make me smile at the drop of a hat. They touch my spirit. They bring me joy.
And I am so glad they have young parents who will take them home!