St. Ignatius opens his Spiritual Exercises with a comparison of the work of bodily exercises to the effort of our spiritual lives:
For just as taking a walk, journeying on foot, and running are bodily exercises, so we call Spiritual Exercises every way of preparing and disposing the soul to rid of itself of all inordinate attachments. (SE 1)
I feel like there is something Ignatius forgot to mention in his comparison of physical exercises to the spiritual exercises of our lives—a little something I like to call “holy stretching.” Holy stretching is what I view as the warm-up exercises God gives us as we prepare to answer a new invitation in our lives.
How do I know if I am in a season of holy stretching?
Pause and take a quick survey of your life. Do you notice any of these things happening?
- Your heart beats rapidly at the thought of trying this new thing.
- You are invited to do something new that is way beyond your comfort zone.
- You feel fear and resistance when you think of saying yes to this new invitation, but you simply cannot let this invitation go.
- You feel like one foot is on the accelerator and the other one is simultaneously on the brake as you make steps towards acting on the new invitation.
If you notice any of these feelings or reactions occurring in your life, you just might be in a season of holy stretching. Goodness knows I am in one right now! I am being stretched far beyond my comfort zone these past few months as God invites me onto new waters. I oscillate between trusting God like Peter did when he walked on water to fearing as Peter did moments later, feeling like I am sinking.
How are we supported in the season of holy stretching?
The good news is that we are never alone in our holy stretching, since it is the Holy Spirit doing the inviting to stretch. God shows up in our lives to encourage us in a multitude of ways, such as:
- Encouraging us through other people.
- Affirming us in prayer through the gift of consolation.
- Readying us with the tools we need.
- Opening doors for opportunities to accept the invitation.
- Giving us the means, gifts, and abilities to answer the call.
What do we do? Lean in!
While the season of holy stretching is full of hope, peace, joy, and faith, it can also be a season that feels scary and uncertain as the unknown looms before you. I suggest leaning into this season and using it as a season of warm-up for the new invitation for which God is preparing you, just like a runner would do a warm-up before his/her race. It’s up to us whether we will resist the gift of holy stretching or willingly participate as God readies us for the next invitation in our lives.