My daughter and I plunge into the shallow flowing stream, walking sticks in hand. After a one mile walk up a relatively easy paved path, we reach the trail head for the Narrows, a canyon in Zion National Park where the path follows a stream bed—sometimes on a narrow strip of sand between the stream and the vertical canyon wall, but often through the knee-deep cold mountain water. We walk through the canyon, taking the toughest of our hikes, the last one before we drive across the desert to California, where I will deliver her to college.
All week, as I hiked mountain trails with my 18-year-old, who is in excellent shape (she ran her first marathon last summer), I was grateful: first, for this memory-making trip, of course. But I’m also grateful that this summer, I’ve committed to building endurance: making sure I log some miles running and walking. Not every day, but at least four days a week, I’ve made sure to exercise enough to push myself, to build endurance. I’ve done yoga to build my balance and core strength.
As a result, I was able to enjoy climbing steep mountain trails, or walking miles through a stream. I was able to keep pace with my teenager, even though I’m a middle-aged mom. I was able to keep my balance walking over rocks in knee-deep water, or on sheer rock paths. My training over the summer has equipped me in such a way that I actually found great joy in hiking the mountains and canyons of Utah.
I don’t always love making myself go for a run back home. But hiking in Arches National Park, Bryce Canyon National Park, and Zion, was exhilarating. I have a tendency to just want to have the exhilarating experiences, but not want to do the training necessary to enjoy them. The work I’d done over the last few months enabled me to engage fully in the exhilarating experiences.
What’s true of physical training is true of spiritual training. Our hiking experiences made me think about what I’m doing to build spiritual endurance. So now, a few days later, I’m pondering this: What practices am I engaging in that will enable me to have the endurance to run the race before me? What if those practices are not done out of legalistic obligation, but as a means to joy?
I look to Jesus for training tips. Prayer, solitude, community and service were four regular practices of his life. Just as running, walking, lifting weights, and so on will help us prepare for hiking in the mountains, spiritual practices will strengthen us for spiritual challenges.
Saying goodbye to my daughter, who will be at college 2,000 miles from home, was a spiritual and emotional challenge. Letting go is a process that will require spiritual training.
I’m in a season of life where the road before me is steep and challenging. In order to navigate it, I’ll need to continue training, spiritually. We don’t just train spiritually because we’re “supposed to,” or “should” pray, or study, or serve. We do it to strengthen ourselves for the challenges. We do it because it will enable us to follow where God leads, not with weariness but with full enjoyment. Training takes us to a place where we can walk where God calls us to walk, with joy. It is not the end but the means by which we prepare for a joyful adventure with God.
How do you build endurance, spiritually? What training do you engage in? I’m planning to write about this over the next few days, but I want to hear from you. What practices have enabled you to face challenges? What strengthens you, spiritually? How are you staying ready for a joyful adventure?
Amen. Just did the same driving from MA to MI (Calvin). And we all went to AZ and UT this summer, and ranked the Narrows hike as our #1 of all time. (check out some photos on my site) Loved these lines: “We don’t just train spiritually because we’re “supposed to,” or “should” pray, or study, or serve. We do it to strengthen ourselves for the challenges. We do it because it will enable us to follow where God leads, not with weariness but with full enjoyment.”
I crave solitude. And yet, when I have everyone in the house dispatched wherever, I find myself online. But I search for empowering posts like this one to encourage me to continue studying and praying. I will pray that you and your daughter are comforted through the inevitable “I miss you!” moments!
Zion is a beautiful place, Keri. Did you make it up to Angel’s Landing? What a view!
For spiritual training, being in God’s word is something that comes easier to me than some other disciplines. One way that I have found is to read through a study Bible and its notes, Genesis to Revelation. When I finish, I get a different study Bible and start over. This can take a long time, but gives me a lot of things to think about as I stay in his word.
My wife and I also pray together. It starts with morning prayers together, and will include saying grace over meals or road prayers as we take off on errands or a trip out of town, and ends each night with a prayer of gratitude for what God has brought us in the day and for him to ready us for the day to come. Prayers together are not always easy, though; those morning prayers come at 4:30, and that’s awfully early! There are a number of times during the day when I will also turn to God in prayer, sometimes finding that I do so without forethought, and other times after wrestling with the notion that I need to do it.
There’s more, I suppose, but these are the type of things I’ve found that keep me in shape spiritually. When I run into a rough patch, God sometimes sustains me by reminding me of what I’ve done in the smoother places and that he has been with me throughout.
I love your analogy of the physical training & spiritual training in this post. I regularly exercise, do Pilates & Yoga because I love it and also because I have a bad back, and this helps my back tremendously. I would have much more pain than I do if I did not engage in these disciplines. In my spiritual life I realize more & more that I would have much more “pain” in my life than I do if I did not read, write & share God’s word daily. I recently moved to a new area of the country & left my daughter & grandchildren behind, so I have a steep challenge before me – lots of hills, rocks and dangerous terrain to tackle so I need to be in shape.
Thanks, all, for your comments and insights! I’m home from my trip now and ready to get back into the routine of spiritual and physical exercise. Tim, thanks for sharing about your “prayers together”–what a life-giving practice.
What’s so wonderful is that we don’t engage in disciplines alone. We do them with God’s help and his presence near us. We don’t do them to impress him but to stay connected with him. Linda, having left my daughter in LA and come back home to Chicago, I can relate to your challenges. Be encouraged–God is with us.
For a helpful guide to Bryce, check out to https://www.10adventures.com/hikes/bryce-canyon-national-park/