Sometimes we like to complicate things. Every now and again it is good to simplify, to make it plain and simple. The other day it occurred to me that three words describe the well-being I have discovered in my physical, emotional, and spiritual life. They are, respectively, move, breathe, and trust.
Let’s look at each in turn. “Move” pertains to the physical, “breathe” to the emotional and psychological, and “trust” to the spiritual.
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, an increase in the likelihood of pulmonary issues such as asthma, less-oxygenated blood, and less-clear thinking … 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 arthritic or problematic, an elliptical machine is a good low-impact option.
I was a runner earlier in life but my knees suffered. I don’t personally think that the human body was designed for sustained distance running; there’s just too much impact on the joints. Injury is common and some of the damage to the joints can be permanent. Because of this, I took up walking about fifteen years ago and walk at least two miles a day, six days a week.
Walking is low impact and easy on the body. It promotes aerobic breathing rather than the anaerobic panting of running. It requires little or 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 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 nearly everywhere they went, through very hilly and mountainous regions. Mary walked 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. But move. When you can, take the stairs instead of the elevator, walk instead of driving, but get off the sofa. Some people even have standing desks to work at in their offices. (See photo above right.)
There’s a handy little device called the “UP” bracelet that actually counts 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 thousand a day. There’s a video at the bottom that describes the “UP” system. (And, no, I’m not getting a kickback!)
Move; it will change your life, improving not only 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. There is a video below that demonstrates the proper way to breathe deeply.
To breathe is to get in touch with our innermost self and also 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.
III. Trust – My Spiritual Director has often reduced his advice to one word: “trust.” The root of all the anxiety I have ever experienced is the fact that I did not trust 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 a whole article here on trust, but two things ought to be emphasized.
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, where you will shop for clothes etc. But even those things you think you can control are based on innumerable things that you cannot control: the next beat of your heart, whether or not there will be an accident that backs up traffic on your way to the store, whether or not your car will break down, etc. You also have no control over whether the store burns down or the item you want is to buy is actually in stock.
Thus, 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 induces 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 to Him 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 all forms of 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.”
That is my story; I’ve learned to trust. And 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.
15 Replies to “Three Words That Can Change Your Life”
Dear Mgr Charles – – I can’t believe that with your strength of faith in God that you have any need for a psychotherapist!!
Thanks for today’s great three-pointed way to faith and serenity.
Breathing – a very important step – breathe in the ‘fresh air’ and exhale the ‘old, bad air’!
I would like, however, to share with you and others the words of a lovely old spiritual hymn that I recall was sung at prayer meetings that I attended with my parents as a very young boy:
Breathe on me, Breath of God,
Fill me with life anew,
That I may love what Thou dost love,
And do what Thou wouldst do.
Breathe on me, Breath of God,
Until my heart is pure,
Until with Thee I will one will,
To do and to endure.
Breathe on me, Breath of God,
Till I am wholly Thine,
Until this earthly part of me
Glows with Thy fire divine.
Breathe on me, Breath of God,
So shall I never die,
But live with Thee the perfect life
Of Thine eternity.
This taught me that all the while we are doing our own breathing exercises, God wants to ‘breathe’ his love and Holy Spirit on us and into our lives until, as the hymn says, ” . . this earthly part of me glows with Thy fire divine.”
God bless all
Love the hymn
my need for a psychotherapist stems from a crisis in my mid-thirties (I’m in my mid fifties now. But maintenance is always good and I go about once a month or so. Its a good way of knowing myself in Christ Jesus and staying healthy.
I am so glad you love the hymn Mgr. Here is a YOUTUBE link to a very simple performance of it – just as I remember it as a small boy.
Come Holy Spirit, Come – Come Lord Jesus – soon!
God Bless All
I have panic disorder as well, treated now and pretty much under control, but always there. Trust, trust is the key. And of course taking life one day at a time “So do not worry about tomorrow: tomorrow will take care of itself. Each day has enough trouble of its own.” I can only do what I can do today. I remind myself of this a lot!
One day at a time, one moment at a time, some of my coping words too! Life can feel like you’ve been hit by a steamroller but thankfully we have heavenly and earthly support.
This was one of my favorite verses when I used to have it worse. Also, contemplating how He holds us in His hand and, as this post reminds, in Him we live and move and have our being. God bless and strengthen everyone.
TRUST. I read a book that absolutely changed my life called Heliotropium. The book was written by Fr. Jeremias Drexelius in the 17th century and the subject of the book is conformity to the Will of God. One can only do this if one trusts in God. The book is online, and I encourage everyone reading this to check it out: http://www.catholictradition.org/Classics/heliotropium.htm
P.S. – Book V deals with “Trust”.
It’s neat that breathing concerns the vegetative aspect of the soul(nutrition and reproduction), walking concerns the animal/sensitive part of the soul (sensation and locomotion), and that trust concerns the rational part of the soul.–and that is all the parts there are of the human soul.
Software I own tells me tells me that belly breathing is the correct way to breathe for singing. That being said, the most interesting thing about breathing is that, from birth onward, except in extremely rare medical disorders, no one needs instructions on how to breathe and that we just breathe, which is a very good thing, without telling ourselves to. The other interesting thing about breathing is that our intellects have control over that, too.
Trust: I read in Aquinas yesterday that suspicion can corrupt one’s judgment: “Even so they were allowed to lend money for usury to strangers, on account of corruption in their concupiscible appetite, lest they should exact usury of their brethren; and again on account of the corruption of suspicion in the reason they were allowed the sacrifice of jealousy, lest mere suspicion should corrupt their judgment.” Summa Theologica > Supplement > Question 67 > Article 3.
As a convert from a fundamentalist/evangelical background, I love two things about your blog: 1) You use alliteration in your ‘homily’/blog, which of course is always taught in protestant preaching (my dad was a preacher) and makes for easy remembering of the points. But I also love that you use old protestant hymns, many/most which are theologically accurate and deep. I love being a Catholic, but I really do miss those old hymns!
I love worship music, too.
HEBREW – ruach: breath, wind, spirit
Kopp/Liberman – BO RUACH ELOHIM
Dear Msgr. Pope,
Please read “Born to Run”. The human body is designed to run. My personal opinion is that The shoe industry duped the human person to run to fit the shoes. Wouldn’t be the first time that big business lied to the American public.
I had been thinking why on earth did God create us with a big calf muscle. Didn’t make sense to not have muscle on top of our tibia. After reading the book, it made perfect sense. The human being was not created by God to run heal to toe but on the midsole. That way the calf muscle acts like a shock absorber and the impact does not go to ones knees.
I have a damaged knee and I’ve been jogging again for the last five years because of this technique. I’m 43. But because people mostly don’t jog this way, the foot and calf aren’t used to it. It takes baby steps to build up strength to run that way.
Also, look up “natural running”.
Hi Msgr Pope,
I wanted to thank you for your wonderful article. As a pediatric psychologist, so much of what you said is critical to our well-being, whether psychological, social, physical, or spiritual. We often complicate our lives with many things that we think will help improve our happiness and health when in reality it is often, as you say, as simple as moving, breathing, and trusting. Thank you for illuminating this so beautifully.
The only place where you and I might depart is in regard to your opinion regarding running. I actually think it can be a lifelong endeavor, and I take this view from both a research, casual reading, and anecdotal standpoint. You probably have read the book “Born to Run”, but this is just one perspective on how I think we as humans were designed to run for most of our lives. But I think there are 3 reasons that many people end up leaving running due to chronic injuries. They are as follows:
1) People run too much, and don’t supplement with other alternatives such as biking, swimming, and strength training
2) People run on hard, flat surfaces way too much, mainly flat, 5K routes instead of utilizing grass, dirt, and other types of trails
3) Many people have poor running technique, often further perpetuated by cushy, overly supportive shoes that neutralize the best impact protector we have – our foot.
Although I thinking walking is wonderful and hiking/backpacking is even more spiritual, I hate to advise people against running because I believe it carries a tremendous spiritual benefit that is hard to find anywhere else. I provide personal perspectives on this both on this site and my Just Thinking site (www.stmarys.org/articles), but am also working a book that will further illuminate this idea.
Anyway, just wanted to mention. Thanks again for the wonderful article.
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