I’ve been helping people get physically stronger for nearly eight years. In that time, I’ve gone through a lot of changes in how I teach others and how I train and care for my own body. I’ve watched my students learn and grow. I’ve seen my training program, change, evolve and it continues to do so.
Change is inevitable in all areas of our lives, and it can be good, but sometimes life hits us hard with any number of challenges in family, work and life. On top of that, we are aging and dealing with forms of physical suffering, such as injury, illness and infirmity. In our physical difficulties, we learn about the spiritual power of suffering with love and perseverance—and by God’s grace, we have an opportunity to grow spiritually and to develop more compassion for the hardships faced by others.
Spiritual conversion is similar in that changes occur in us that can be both uplifting and challenging. We may experience many conversions in our lifetime as God seeks to bring us closer to him to help us grow in holiness. Changes, both big in small, by the grace of God, can lift us up, lead us into darkness, move us into new ways of serving, living and doing for God and for others. The changes might surprise us, even frighten us a little, and we may, believe it or not, even have an occasional longing for some sins that we’ve left behind.
According to the Catechism of the Catholic Church, #1989: “The first work of the grace of the Holy Spirit is conversion, effecting justification in accordance with Jesus' proclamation at the beginning of the Gospel: "Repent, for the kingdom of heaven is at hand." Moved by grace, man turns toward God and away from sin, thus accepting forgiveness and righteousness from on high.”
Sometimes conversion, or this movement away from sin and toward God, means we change how we use our resources, our time, our energy, and even the people we spend our time with. We might be called to simplify, to give more, to lead or to follow in new ways, to pray more, or to just be more. God works with us so personally that the path of conversion is not predictable nor is it ever universal.
I look to the saints for wisdom on this journey of conversion which we pray continues throughout our lives here on earth. The saints are regular people who had many points of conversion in their lives and grew to great holiness by their gradual, yet eventual submission to God’s will.
Pope Saint John Paul II encourages us. “I plead with you! Never, ever give up on hope, never doubt, never tire, never become discouraged. Be not afraid.”
The fruit of conversion can in fact, be the gift of journeying more fully with and for others. Other times, it can be more of a dark and lonely road like St. Mother Teresa of Calcutta experienced when God didn’t feel near to her — and so we rely on faith to keep moving forward without the clear light of His presence guiding us.
In our physical journey, as in our spiritual journey, there will be changes, conversions, movements, big and small, good and not so good — I pray that we listen to our bodies and respond with prudent care — and more importantly, listen to God, accept and cooperate with his grace with a steely focus on the ultimate goal of eternal life.
St. Padre Pio knows well the struggles we face. “The life of a Christian is nothing but a perpetual struggle against self; there is no flowering of the soul to the heart of its perfection except at the price of pain.”