Sometimes we like to complicate things, but every now and again it’s good to simplify, to make things plain and simple. The other day it occurred to me that three words describe the wellbeing that I have discovered in my physical, emotional, and spiritual life: move, breathe, and trust.
“Move” pertains to the physical, “breathe” to the emotional and psychological, and “trust” to the spiritual. Let’s look at each in turn.
I. Move – Some years ago, my doctor told me that the secret to good health, strength, and longevity, comes down to one word: “move.” A sedentary lifestyle can cause innumerable problems: weight gain, lethargy, fatigue, boredom, depression, muscular atrophy, weak and/or brittle bones, shallowness of breath, poor posture, a weakened heart, and an increase in the likelihood of pulmonary problems … just to name a few.
Well, you get the point. Move! Walk every day. Except for swimming, there is almost no better exercise. If your joints are already giving you problems, an elliptical machine is a good low-impact option.
I was a runner earlier in life but my knees suffered. Personally, I don’t think that the human body was designed for distance running; there’s just too much stress on the joints. Injury is common and some of the joint damage can be permanent. Because of this, I took up walking about fifteen years ago and try to walk at least two miles a day, six days a week.
Walking is low impact and easy on the body. It promotes aerobic rather than anaerobic breathing. It requires little to no equipment and provides time for praying, listening to music or podcasts, talking with a walking partner, or chatting on the phone (I recommend a hands-free device so that the arms can swing naturally). I really look forward to my evening walks!
The people of the Bible were amazing walkers. Our Mother Mary, St. Joseph, Jesus, and all the Apostles made the annual trek to Jerusalem on foot, 70 miles each way. They walked through very hilly and mountainous regions. Mary walked the 70 miles to Bethlehem when she was nine months pregnant. She and Joseph walked hundreds of miles to Egypt, carrying Jesus, and then back again. The people of the Bible were hardy; they walked nearly everywhere, often carrying heavy loads.
Move! Walk every day if you can. If you need to, start by just walking one block; then try to increase the distance a bit every day. When you can, take the stairs instead of the elevator and walk instead of driving. No matter what, though, get off the sofa. Some people even have standing desks in their offices.
There’s are handy little electronic devices that actually count your steps for you each day. The goal for the average adult is 10,000 steps per day. Yours truly averages 12,000-15,000 a day.
Move; it will change your life, improving not just your body but your soul as well.
II. Breathe – My psychotherapist has a plaque on her desk that reads, “BREATHE.” Most of us don’t know how to breathe properly. We breathe with our chest and only fill the top of our lungs.
It isn’t hard to learn how to breathe better, using the belly. Babies do it naturally, but as we get older and more self-conscious about the appearance of our bellies, we tend to breathe less deeply.
To breathe is to get in touch with both our innermost self and our body. Breathing is very spiritual. As we breathe in, we receive the blessings of God; as we breathe out, we let go of inner stresses and struggles. Exhaling is a form of release, inhaling a form of receiving.
Deep breathing can be very relaxing; it reduces stress and is a wonderful way to prepare ourselves to pray. Too many of us are out of touch with our body and our very self. Breathing can reconnect us to our own self and to God. Too many of us store up a lot of stress. We need to learn how to exhale. Too many of us live on fumes. We need to learn how to draw more deeply from the life breath God offers. Breathe!
III. Trust – My spiritual director has often reduced his advice to me to one word: “trust.” The root of all the anxiety I have ever experienced is not trusting God. To the degree that I have learned to trust God, I am less anxious. In fact, I rarely get anxious anymore. It is the result of a fifteen-year journey out of panic disorder and into trust.
I cannot write an entire article on trust here, but I’d like to emphasize two things.
First, the illusion of control is a big enemy of trust in God. Control is ultimately an illusion. You may have a few things under your control, such as what you will eat for dinner or where you will shop for clothes, but even those things are based on innumerable other things that you cannot control: whether or not you will live to see your next heartbeat, whether or not there will be an accident that backs up traffic on your way to the store, or whether or not your car will break down. You also have no control over whether the store burns down or the item you want to buy is actually in stock.
Control, in any thorough sense, is both illusory and limited. Thinking we can and should be in control is to live under an illusion, and living under such an illusion is stressful and frustrating.
We often think that if we could just be in control we would be less anxious; but this is not so. The great paradox about serenity is that acceptance of the fact that there are many things we cannot control reduces anxiety and brings peace. The fact that we are not in control is a “hard” truth that brings great serenity and engenders trust if we come to accept it.
Second, a central way to open the door to trust is to remember to be grateful. In the spiritual sense, to remember means to have deeply present in my mind and heart what God has done for me, so that I am grateful and different because of it. To remember is to discipline my mind and heart to ponder how good and faithful God has been, to spend time every day considering the gifts and graces of God and how He has sustained and provided for me. This makes me grateful and different.
It also builds trust, and trust drives out our fears, resentments, and anxiety. Through gratitude, I become a man of hope. That is, I confidently expect God’s help and providence to see me through to my goal of being with Him in glory.
An old song says, “Through it all, I’ve learned to trust in Jesus, I’ve learned to trust in God … I’ve learned to depend upon His Word.”
Well, that is my story; I’ve learned to trust. Over the years, in the laboratory of my own life, I have proved God’s Word and His promises and found them to be true. Learn to trust, to lean, to let go. God says, “I’ve got this, so you let go.”
These are three words that can change your life: move, breathe, and trust.