This past weekend, I competed in the World Kettlebell Lifting Championships for the second straight year, and with a few days to absorb the experience, I realized something: I could be pretty good at praying if I trained for it the way I trained for kettlebells.
I then thought of running the Chicago Marathon in 2010, and again it hit me: Yep, I’d be pretty good at praying if I approached it the way I prepare for a race.
How are these things related?
- You have to persist through the crummy days. I have so many bad runs and workouts under my belt, I can’t count them all! But I still always come back the next time and give it another go. When I struggle to pray, however, I get frustrated because I’m “doing it wrong.”
- You need a schedule and a measurable goal. Of course our spiritual lives aren’t finite; you don’t have an event on which to focus. But you certainly can decide you want to pray daily or “X” number of times per week. Or you can decide to grow your prayer time from 15-30 minutes, or commit to something like Eucharistic Adoration in addition to personal prayer. If you write down your goal and create the steps and schedule to get there, you probably will!
- Expect setbacks. At a certain point, you have to accept that life happens and you get off your routine. You miss a run or a workout, but you don’t give up the larger goal. Truly, you have to practice not quitting. This past Saturday, I knew during my 10-minute set that I wasn’t going to reach my goal. Almost everything in me wanted to quit, because it sure would have been easier. But my training has taught me otherwise. I have, quite intentionally, practiced not quitting. In the past, though, when I’ve messed up my Lenten commitment, for example, I’ve thrown in the towel. (And yes, it is easier. But is that the point?)
- It helps to have a coach and a support network. Runners dissect every run with their running friends. And for the past two days, I’ve told about 50 people the mind-numbing details of my 10-minute kettlebell set. It helps me process what I’ve done and think about how and what I want to do going forward. But I almost never talk to anyone about praying. Somehow we seem to have determined that praying is such an individualized act, we can’t or shouldn’t discuss it. (Don’t talk about politics or religion, right?) Maybe this is why so many of us struggle to get better at it!
- There might not be some magical, transformative moment. We’re not Rocky. Life isn’t a movie. It’s a long, slow, sometimes infuriating series of ups, downs, backs, and forths. God knows that, even if we don’t get it. When I crossed the marathon finish line, I literally said to myself, “Well, that’s over.” There was no otherworldly realization that I was now The Person I Was Meant to Be. I ran a race, and that was that. This weekend, though, I realized something about kettlebells: I have done more in three years than I ever thought possible. I came to the sport with no knowledge of it; I just wanted to lose some weight! And now, I’m a competitor, a real athlete, with two ranks and a first-place medal.
If I can motivate myself that much for a certificate and a big hunk of metal, think of what the promise of eternal life should get me to do!