Squeezing fitness into priestly life

I was never a fitness guy. I am reliably non-athletic. When I was young, I liked to play sports, but only if they weren’t too competitive, because I really don’t like to lose. I did exercise plans and weight loss plans, and I even trained and ran a half marathon once. Yet, overall, my busy schedule and my penchant for rest and relaxation overcame any urge to exercise.

And then, in my last church, there was a woman who was a personal trainer. She held classes for moms (accompanied by children), but they were always in the morning, and the disruption of my working day at that time was simply unbearable. But in the fall of 2019, when she offered a class at 5:45 in the morning, I was excited. I could exercise well before my kids were awake at all, and then have the rest of the day to work and do what I needed to. It was great. Overall, it was just the two of us (no one else wanted to get up before the sun) and we slowly started adding days. I invited others regularly, and we were slowly gaining more and more members.

When COVID hit, we were working six in the morning of the week and switched to Google hangouts to stay safe. It was nice to start the day with exercise, run endorphins and run the body. I also sweated, which led to taking a shower, so I got ready every day, which helped keep me anxious and depressed. We switched to outdoor workouts when we could, and then went back indoors and disguised ourselves in the winter months until vaccines were available.

Then, in July 2021, I was reappointed and my daily workouts stopped. After a few weeks, I devoted myself to walking and running again, but I struggled to keep up with my daily cardio and strength training. I had to ask for a place in our new garage, which required unpacking the boxes I didn’t want to deal with. I had to deal with temperatures almost 30 degrees higher than the ones I experienced in northern Idaho, and worst of all, I had no others to exercise. It was hard to stick to the same standards when it was just me, me and me.

Yet, those nearly two years of regular exercise have taught me how much better I feel after exercising, how it clears my head, how it expels emotional energy from my body, how endorphins make me a versatile better person. I knew I still needed it. So I regrouped. I unpacked that tower of boxes. I set my weights. I wrote exercises. I got up early to beat the heat. And I convinced myself that – with or without people – it was worth it. It’s not what it used to be, but I move my body, speed up my heart rate, stretch, train my strength, and take care of my overall health. And then I got a job and excuses were easier to find. We made space for the guests of the house, which required moving things to my exercise space. So I go back to the return of time and space for all that.

I remind myself that I have to give priority to exercise if it really matters to me. Like Saturday, playing or building relationships, it won’t happen if I don’t find the time to do it. I try not to fight over what has changed. In fact, I try to stick firmly to something I read while exercising before the pandemic, which says that your exercise routine can change at different seasons in your life, and that’s okay. There is no routine you have to adhere to. It’s okay to try and love different things along the way. So while HIIT has been my mainstay, it’s okay to be walking and stretching now. Maybe later it will be Zumba or kickboxing, and maybe next summer, when the weather is warm and the river here is beautiful, maybe I will go rowing and kayaking. Whatever the activity, I know that exercise is not only good for my body, but it really improves my mental and emotional health. It often gives me the opportunity to take a walk and talk on the phone with a colleague or friend, and I really can’t beat the rise in endorphins.

As I share my journey, knowing how difficult this season of service has been for all of us – both clergy and laity – I pray that you too will make room for some form of exercise and receive the gifts he can offer.

The Rev. Debbie Sperry serves as pastor of Wenatchee First United Methodist Church in Wenatchee, Washington. This post has been republished with the permission of the Greater Northwest Episcopal Area website.

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