Published 1/25/18. Updated 1/26/21.
I’ll admit, I prefer a story with a neat and clear-cut resolution. A little bow on it, with all the details wrapped up. For that reason, I would be a terrible movie critic, because I am too easily pleased with the neatly packaged endings in the majority of films. We’re not here to talk about movies though.
I want to talk about a scenario for which I don’t have a tidy little ending. It is an ongoing narrative, with a new chapter every day. The subject is the way I spend my precious morning hours before work. Specifically, the division of time between two things that are very near to my heart: spending time with God in His Word and in prayer (a.k.a. devotions), and exercising.
The scriptural context for this challenge is 1 Timothy 4:8-9:
“for bodily discipline is only of little profit, but godliness is profitable for all things, since it holds promise for the present life and also for the life to come. 9 It is a trustworthy statement deserving full acceptance.“
I’ve thought about this verse often over the years, as I have continually wrestled with how to prioritize these two things.
Both things are necessary, and non-negotiable elements of my life. Both bring joy, life balance, and health (spiritual and physical) that I desperately need in my life.
I’ve come to realize that I prefer to do both things in the morning, as it is easier to accomplish them before the busyness of the day and a non-stop stream of distractions enter into the picture.
The assertion of Paul in the passage above makes it clear what the priority ought to be, but the nitty-gritty of how that plays out on a day-to-day basis is where things can get tricky.
Habits of the Past
The frequency and priority with which I have put these things into practice varies with each season of life. Historically, when life gets hectic and stressful, both those items have been shuffled to the back burner, which is ironic, because those are the times when I need more of both the most!
Being a natural night owl, I have also historically struggled to get up with any, let alone plenty, of time to spare before work to engage my heavenly Father and lace up my sneakers. Intermittently, I hit strides where I could get up early enough to accomplish one of those, but time often ran out for the other. Usually, I would work out, then find that I had to rush through my devotional time — if I got to it at all.
Fast forward to now.
A Change and a Challenge
An unexpected period of unemployment in the fall of 2017 and an eventual job transition to a part-time position for the time being gave me an opportunity to slow down and re-think my priorities. I had recently gotten back on track with exercising before work, but I knew shortchanging my time with God was a poor choice. I had been given the surprise gift of more unscheduled time, and I willed to use it to reshape my habits.
With my laid-back, type B personality, I’ll admit that I’m a pro at starting my days off work at a snail-like pace and letting the day escape without enough getting accomplished. Through an unexpected series of events, I ended up taking a challenge to get up at 5:30 am for 30 days in a row. Turned out to be just the impetus I needed to jumpstart my new habits.
That challenge started about two weeks into my three-week period of unemployment. I began getting up early, resolved to spend some quality time in the Word and in prayer before working out. Only after doing both would I step into the tasks for the day. I’m pleased to say, the results were delightful. Not only did I pre-empt my natural bent towards sleeping in and laziness, but I also began to reap rich benefits from pursuing the Lord and my fitness.
Pursuing Wisdom and Obedience
As anyone who walks with the Lord knows, investing the time to seek Him first (Matthew 6:33) is not only a command, but it is in our best interest to do so. It has been plain to me that cultivating this habit has heaped immense joy and peace into my life of late. It is hard to describe, but it is fabulous to bask in the presence of God.
Furthermore, taking the time to invest in my physical fitness through regular exercise has also been highly beneficial to my mood, energy level, and self-confidence. Endorphins are neat. 🙂
The 30-day 5:30 am wake up challenge is now long over. I’ve found that a new habit is underway, however. No, I don’t get up at 5:30 every single day. (Yes, I know you are supposed to cement the habit.) I do on many, many more days than I used to. I’m slowly turning into more of a morning person. I never woulda thought!
I’ve recently noticed that on days when I get up too late for devotions and a workout, my mood is a lot more volatile and I get irritated with startling speed. I don’t like it.
On the other hand, when I continue these newfound habits, my spirit is almost as buoyant as a life jacket – pretty hard to keep down.
Here is where we lack the neatly packaged ending. It would be misleading for me to insinuate that life is now perfect, I check off all the items on my to-do list every day, and I am now in shape for a marathon. None of those things are remotely true.
I am well aware that right now is a season just like any previous time. I was given what turned out to be a gift of more time when I was faced with a job transition due to a layoff.
Since this post was originally written, I have taken on entrepreneurship as a freelance writer in addition to my part-time job. With a couple years behind me since I penned this struggle, I can see the continual value of blazing a trail to start my day with the most important things. The habits that I set in motion continue to serve me well in this newer season of life.
It still brings me great joy and peace to arrange my schedule to get those two important things done first — most of the time.
How about you? How do you balance spiritual and physical discipline? Your thoughts and reactions are welcomed, as always.