Have you ever exerted yourself physically, and then felt sore for a day or two afterwards? For some of us, chasing your grandchildren around for a day will be enough to do you in. For others, it might be the result of digging your running shoes out of the dusty closet corner and trying to relive those 6-minute mile days of your youth. Still others might get sore after a lengthy cross-country hike up and down a series of mountaintops. I remember one evening when I was living in Yellowstone National Park, I decided, without a great deal of forethought, that I would bike around the Lower Loop the next day. This was a 96-mile loop with a significant amount of elevation climbing, several stretches of very deserted territory, and numerous opportunities for encounters with wildlife. I made it, but I definitely overshot my fitness level. My legs were sore for days afterwards, and with a fierce sunburn on my arms and neck, I did almost rue the day I had learned to ride a bike.
I used to believe that a difficult physical effort would inevitably be followed by days of soreness while my body recovered from the “abuse” I had given it. And while that may still be the case anytime you attempt an over-ambitious effort, this year, I’ve gone on several long-distance bike rides and I’ve learned something new: the process of recovery can be dramatically shortened. This requires the right balance of hydration, nutrition, and rest, and also getting those three at the right times. For instance, I’ll be sure to be well hydrated before a difficult physical effort, and obtain nutritious fuel during and immediately afterwards. Then a full night of sleep at the end of the day rounds out the recipe for a healthy recovery.
There’s a spiritual analogy hiding in here; let’s see if we can dig it out. First, consider the importance of hydration. A dehydrated body is more likely to experience headaches, develop muscle cramps, have a higher heart rate, and have difficulty accessing energy stores (or, lethargy). We all know we need water, but it is likely that many of us have become accustomed to the minor inconveniences of being mildly dehydrated on a regular basis. Hydration for the body is like Prayer for the soul. We all know we need a regular connection with our Creator, and without it, certain ailments may develop: spiritual dryness or lethargy, or feeling like God is distant or unresponsive. Let’s not allow ourselves to become accustomed to such “inconveniences,” anymore than we would settle for being perpetually lethargic or having unending muscle cramps, especially when a few drinks of life-giving water may be just the remedy.
Second, let’s look at the importance of good nutrition, especially during and right after a difficult physical effort. When you are exerting yourself physically, tiny little tears develop within your muscles at a cellular level. It’s the repairing of these tears which makes you stronger the next time around, but also, it’s an insufficient supply of the right nutrients with which to repair those tears that makes a recovery lengthy and filled with soreness. Your body turns to this repairing process within the first 20 minutes after a physical effort; I’ve found that a nutrient-dense protein shake immediately after a long bike ride works wonders.
Just like those little tears in your muscles, we all experience difficulties in life that can be challenging or confusing, if not painful or even traumatic. During such difficulties, and immediately afterwards, it is especially important what we choose to believe about the experience; reaching the wrong conclusions (“God must not love me very much,” or “I must make every effort to avoid emotional pain”) can lead to a very “sore” recovery, even life-long negative consequences. But choosing true conclusions (“God loves me no matter what,” and “I still want to love others unconditionally”) can allow for a healthier recovery from the difficult situation.
Such a recovery is only possible with a steady diet not of Pro-bars and protein shakes, but of marinating in and meditating upon the Scriptures. A consistent intake of the truth is just the spiritual nutrition our souls need to repair those tears to our spiritual muscle fibers, and to facilitate our believing the right things about the difficult situations we encounter in life. Indeed, to borrow from another analogy, it makes us like a tree planted by streams of water, yielding fruit in season, and possessing leaves which do not wither (Psalm 1), even when the sun is hot, or woodpeckers chisel out holes in our branches.
(I’m not suggesting that we can just pray and read the Bible and expect the wounds of traumatic experiences to magically go away; but I do believe they are among the essential ingredients to processing them well.)
Finally, rest. In any exercise program, the rest days are just as important as the workout days, because that’s when the body is best able to complete recharging that which has been depleted and prepare for the next round. A physical effort without rest in the recovery is a recipe for exhaustion. Likewise, inasmuch as navigating the routines and challenges of ordinary life in a fallen world can be like running a spiritual marathon, the Sabbath is an essential element to our spiritual recovery. It is a day of rest, not just for our weary bodies, but to recharge our weak spirits and replenish our worn souls; a day to refill the abundance Jesus offers.
Let’s enjoy this Sabbath and take the opportunity it offers to connect with our Creator and His Word – it may be just the thing you need for spiritual recovery.