Come to me. Get away with me and … I’ll show you how to take a real rest. Walk with me and work with me—watch how I do it. Learn the unforced rhythms of grace.
Exercise can be challenging for those of us with chronic illness. We might be weaker than we once were, stiffer, often in pain. We might not be able to complete a triathlon or run a marathon, and that’s okay. What follows is an invitation to lean into Jesus as He teaches us to move and pray in the unforced rhythms of grace, to move according to His plan and our unique capabilities.
Moving is more than burning calories and toning muscles. It’s also an invitation to safely confront our emotional vulnerabilities.
Many of us have experienced the acute trauma of pain, the continual and sustained loss of function, those frightening moments when we’ve been near death. Sometimes we cope by disengaging or disconnecting from the pain and fear. We hold our bodies at arm’s length and slowly give up the things we once loved, the ways we enjoyed moving, and the activities we anticipated.
However, we begin to grow numb when we swallow our trauma and pain.
Movement helps us reconnect and reengage, to courageously step back into relationship with a body that has betrayed us, caused us fear or anger, escalated our anxiety, and isolated us from community – and ourselves.
Movement invites us to acknowledge the shame and limitations of a body that might look and work differently because of chronic illness or because of lost function, lost identity, and lost abilities.
Also, movement brings us face-to-face with vulnerability – and as we face the losses, express our grief, and bravely name our shame, Jesus invites us into gratitude, a taproot rhythm of grace.
Gratitude flips the paradigm, broadening our understanding, growing our compassion, and igniting the tender embers of hope. Gratitude begins to draw us out, helping us to see what is still possible, and re-engaging us with life.
As we begin to move, it’s important to:
- Start slowly – in baby steps
- Listen to our bodies
- Be flexible. On some days, we might step. On other days we might count reps. Sometimes movement might not be possible at all. Perhaps those are the days that we pause to pray.
- Celebrate each small step and every moment spent in prayer with Jesus
- Notice the changes, no matter how small
- Begin to slowly surrender fear, distrust, anger, and any shame we feel toward our bodies
- Stick with it – movement is a marathon, not a sprint. We will face obstacles, both physical and emotional, but obstacles can grow our faith, strengthen our determination, and deepen our dependence on Jesus.
Lean into Him. Walk with Him. Work with Him. Learn from Him as He leads you into the beautiful, unfolding, and unforced rhythms of creation—always at the pace of grace.
How will you move and pray today?
CHRONIC ILLNESS, EXERCISE, AND CREATIVITY
Chronic illness can make exercising in traditional ways difficult, but with the guidance and supervision of your doctor and a little creativity, it’s not only possible but can also be very rewarding.
The most important thing to remember is that even small changes can make a big difference.
TALK WITH YOUR DOCTOR
First, talk with your doctor. Then with his/her guidance, brainstorm simple ways to add a little more movement to your days:
- Walk a few extra steps around the house, in the yard, or around the block
- Do arm circles, shoulder shrugs, leg lifts, or ankle circles while sitting in your chair
- Add an extra trip up and down the stairs
Whatever you choose, stick with it. Build slowly – and celebrate the small victories along the way.
#StepRepPray is about experiencing the joy of movement as you lean into Jesus.
WHAT MATTERS IS THAT YOU BEGIN
“Let us run with perseverance the race marked out for us, fixing our eyes on Jesus, the pioneer and perfecter of our faith…” (Hebrews 12:1-2).
“When we integrate body and soul together in prayer,” writes Colleen Scariano, “we offer God the most perfect worship.”
Jennon Bell Hoffmann adds, “Faith and fitness are not only more connected than expected, but each also benefits from incorporating the other.”
We are body, mind, and soul together—and that doesn’t change because of illness.
God knows everything about us, and He is intimately familiar with our circumstances, down to the smallest detail. There is no guilt, no shame, and no condemnation if we aren’t able to exercise in traditional ways. Instead, He invites us to take the first step, to lift our voices in worship, to pray as we breathe, and to thank Him as we move.
What and how much we can do isn’t important. What matters is that we step in.
The only impossible journey is the one we never begin.
TALK WITH YOUR DOCTOR
Talk with your doctor or physical therapist about the kind of activity that’s right for you. Even a small amount of movement can make a big difference.
BENEFITS OF EXERCISE
- helps control weight
- improves mental health and mood
- increases flexibility
- improves balance and coordination
- strengthens bone and muscle
- improves quality of life
- reduces risk of falling
QUESTIONS TO ASK YOUR DOCTOR
- How does my illness affect my ability to exercise?
- Do any of my medications affect my ability to exercise?
- How often and how much should I exercise — at what level of intensity should I exercise?
- Should I take any special steps to get started?
- What movement goals are realistic for me?
- Are there any exercises I shouldn’t do?
- Can you recommend a physical therapist to help me get started?
- What else do I need to know?
“A journey of a thousand miles begins with a single step.” (Lao Tzu)
Start slowly and build a little at a time. Pay attention to your symptoms, rest when you need, and make creative adjustments as you go.
Small is better than none at all.
“Do what you can, with what you have, where you are.” (Teddy Roosevelt)
Arthur Ashe put it like this: “Start where you are, use what you have, do what you can.”
Think about the kinds of activities you enjoy: walking, gardening, dancing, biking, folding laundry, yard work, housework, stretching, cardio, strength training, yoga, pilates, etc.
Are you able to do those activities today? If not, how could you modify or adapt them?
If you like yoga but are currently unable to participate, would you consider chair yoga?
Maybe you enjoy gardening but are unable to kneel. Would you consider raised beds?
If you like to bike, but need something a little less strenuous, would you enjoy working out on a stationary or recumbent bike?
FOCUS ON THE POSITIVE
“Be creative. Be willing to adapt. Take the brave first step.” (Cindee Snider Re)
A workout diary can help you measure your progress and celebrate your journey.
Note things like:
- the date
- kind of activity, movement, or exercise
- number of steps, reps, or minutes
- distance, intensity, weight, or level
- calories burned
- insights gained – how you felt, what you noticed
- who you prayed for
We are always better together!
Choose a friend, trainer, family member, or even an online community to encourage, inspire, and cheer you on. Accountability makes a big difference.
A simple, engaging way to log your movement is with a Workout Buddy. Whether you and your buddy live on the same street or halfway around the world, you can record your progress with a quick message, text, or email.
How many steps you walked or laps you swam or minutes you danced in your chair are not important. What matters is that you’re sharing the journey and encouraging one another along the way.
TAKE A CLASS
Discover creative ways to participate.
Instead of abandoning activities you once enjoyed, discover creative new ways to participate in them. Ask local hospitals, clinics, or non-profits about adaptive fitness classes, which are often led by trained instructors in safe and supportive environments.
#StepRepPray is an invitation to meet with God in movement, always at the pace of grace.
As we move in rhythmic and familiar ways, our hearts and minds are freed to pray.
Justin Rhodes, associate professor of psychology at the University of Illinois, Urbana-Champaign wrote, “A growing body of research suggests we think and learn better when we walk or do another form of exercise.”
This is the genesis of #StepRepPray, a name coined by Chronic Joy co-founder, Cindee Snider Re during a difficult recovery.
“In frustration over my unrelenting tremors, determined to regain my balance and strength, and with my doctor’s approval, I stepped onto the elliptical one morning to walk three painfully slow minutes. In tears, I closed my eyes and began to pray, and something unexpected happened, my body began to keep pace with the music playing in the background. I tried it again the next day and the next. Every morning as I stepped onto the elliptical, I would close my eyes and pray. What started in absolute frustration, quickly grew into my favorite part of the day.”
Prayer for #StepRepPray
Help me discover creative ways to add movement to my days. Lead me, guide me, and draw me in. Teach me patience with the journey. Remind me to extend grace and compassion even to myself, and to celebrate each small victory. Thank you for the joy of movement today.
In Jesus’ name, Amen.
MOVE AT THE PACE OF GRACE
Our #StepRepPray guide is filled with valuable tips and important questions.
The Workout Log provides a convenient place to record the date, activity, time, distance, sets, reps, and for whom you prayed. Take a screenshot and share those stats quickly and easily with a Workout Buddy or Accountability Partner. Click here to order a binder to keep all your log sheets.
Send a text, message, or handwritten note to someone you prayed for today.
With your doctor’s guidance, and a little creativity, exercising with chronic illness is not just possible, but can be rewarding. Meet with God in movement — always at the pace of grace.
Make Your Life A Prayer Flat Cards
Pedal, Praise and Pray
As I pedal and praise, I blast worship music on my phone – and I pray from the first push on a pedal until I stop and stretch.
3 Ways Movement Will Help You Emotionally
Exercise can be difficult with chronic illness. Yet, whether small or large, easy movements will help you confront emotional vulnerability — always at the pace of grace.
Rediscovering Wonder • An Invitation to Be Amazed
Today, take the first step back into the journey of rediscovering wonder. Step outside. Close your eyes. Breathe deep. Relax your shoulders. Feel the sun on your face. How does the air smell? What is the surface beneath your feet?