Jason Wright: The longer between workouts, the harder it is to return.

A few weeks ago, I returned to the gym after what we’ll call a “personal hiatus.” It was just long enough to be awkward when I walked back in the heavy glass doors, but not long enough for the folks at the front desk to forget me.

As I moved through the lobby and past a bulletin board, I think I spotted my mug on a “missing” poster.

A few minutes later I settled into my pre-prodigal son routine. Familiar faces smiled when they saw me and a gentleman old enough to be my great-great-great-grandfather lapped me on the indoor track with a Sony Walkman strapped to his hip.

When I dragged my body back through the lobby an hour later, my muscles politely asked if they could suspend my membership.

By the next morning, they were clamoring for a complete cancellation.

Then came the classic intervention by my legs, arms and shoulders. They sat me down and explained that they’d only go back if we could ease our way into a rhythm.

“ltr”>”Take it easy,” they said. “What are you trying to prove? Don’t try to win the year; you just need to win today.”

“Good talk,” I answered. “Good talk.”

But that wasn’t my only heart to heart last week.

Chatting with an old friend trying to survive a rough patch, I felt spiritually nudged to suggest he consider returning to his previous routines of prayer and scripture study. It had been too long, he said, and his spiritual muscles were not up to it.

Soon we were drawing comparisons between physical gyms with weight rooms, treadmills and lap pools, and spiritual gyms with holy scriptures, prayer and church attendance.

“It’s a cycle,” he said. “I’ll set a goal, but then I get discouraged when I don’t make it. I guess it’s been too long. My spiritual strength isn’t what it used to be.”

“I’ve been there,” I said. “Haven’t we all?”

We set goals, and despite our best efforts, we sometimes stop attending either kind of gym. Then the longer between workouts, the harder it is to return.

Habits fade. Optimism wanes.

But if it’s wise to ease back into working out our bodies, perhaps it’s smart with our souls, too.

Been too long since you’ve worked on your spiritual muscles by reading the scriptures? You don’t have to read the entire book of Matthew today. Try a chapter. Tackle a page. Attack a single verse.

Can’t remember the last time you prayed? Don’t recall when you knelt beside your bed and really talked with God? You don’t need to necessarily pray until the sun comes up. Just begin. Get on your knees. Speak. Listen. Then do it again tomorrow.

Afraid to walk back into church on Sunday because your feet have forgotten the way? Don’t worry about the weeks you’ve already missed or the many weeks to come. Just go. Use the spiritual reservoir the Lord promises to each of us and open the door this Sunday. You’ll be surprised at how refreshed your spiritual muscles will feel when the last “amen” is said.

The longer my friend and I waxed on about life, heaven and our struggles, the more we understood that our spiritual muscles are much more like their physical counterparts than we ever thought. And the more I felt that my ownspiritual muscles need plenty of work, too.

The more we work them out, the more they’ll grow. Each day we pump a little spiritual iron, the easier it will get.

Habits return. Optimism grows.

Later, if we drift and become weak, there’s no need to give up or give in. We just get back to the gym.

We start small. Have faith. Believe in the power of our first day back. And before you know it? You might just become a spiritual gym rat.

As for me, I’ve returned to the gym a couple of times since that first visit after my “personal hiatus.” And even though I keep challenging myself to lift a little more and run a little farther, I can still hear my legs, arms and shoulders.

“What are you trying to prove?” they say. “There’s no reason to win the year all at once; you just need to win the day.”

Great advice for the body.

And not too bad for the soul, either.


Jason F. Wright is a New York Times best-selling author of 10 books, including“Christmas Jars,” “The Wednesday Letters” and “The 13th Day of Christmas.” He can be reached at feedback@jasonfwright.com or http://www.jasonfwright.com.