If I could get a ripped, NBA body by sitting in front of the TV an hour a day watching Mythbusters, you bet I'd never miss an episode. In fact, if getting in shape was that easy we'd all be walking around looking like Tony Horton and Jillian Michaels (fitness gurus to the uninitiated).
But it's not that easy. And there are so many things I'd rather do than exercise for an hour a day ‘Ìâ‰âÂÌâ‰Ûù like watch reruns of Mythbusters.
Things that are good for my body are rarely ever easy or enjoyable to do. Saying 'yes' to exercise usually means saying 'no' to something that'll give me more comfort or pleasure in the moment.
But I've learned that fitness is not really about the moment of working out; it's about overall health, and preparation for future trials. I love playing basketball, but I know that playing at my best involves much more than the game of basketball.
If I let my overall fitness drop I would show up to my weekly games and play far beneath my potential. I'd lose quickness, jumping ability, strength for defense, and endurance to stay competitive in the last few minutes of the game. And then I'd drive home angry and embarrassed that I let my teammates and myself down.
The spiritual life is very similar. The ability to say 'no' to serious temptations greatly depends on our overall spiritual fitness. Nothing can replace prayer and the sacraments, but I've found that a significant part of spiritual fitness is impulse control. We have to practice saying 'no.'
Only recently have I begun taking this practice seriously thanks to the encouragement of a mentor. If I practice saying 'no' to things that aren't by themselves sinful, I find it easier to say 'no' to things that are.
And it doesn't have to be grandiose. Recently I had a serious craving for a pancake lunch. I could have easily indulged it, and felt no regrets, but I decided to take the opportunity to say 'no' to that impulse and eat something else. In the process I decided to offer up my desire for pancakes to someone close to me who needs prayer.
I also try to practice impulse control when browsing the internet. 'Do I have to check the Facebook newsfeed again? No. Do I have to check stats on nba.com for the second time before lunch. No. Do I need to tweet about how much Pope Francis looks just like the actor Jonathan Pryce? No.' (Check it out though, he really does.)
There are many times throughout the day where we have an impulse and we simply indulge it without much thought. Of course, some of these impulses have no moral dimension, but we can make them opportunities for spiritual fitness.
Think of the last time you successfully said 'no' to something you wanted to do. Did you suddenly feel empowered? The ability to say 'no' is one thing that separates us from the rest of the animal kingdom. Impulse control makes us more human.
We usually don't have to go out searching for sin. That's because, in our fallen nature, we simply have sinful impulses and were used to indulging all of our impulses on a whim. Virtue is not exactly natural. Virtue takes mindful awareness, practice, and discipline. But once we start to become comfortable saying 'no' to impulses and yes to virtue, a spiritual force is unleashed that leaves a trail of holy destruction in its wake.
I give you the same challenge I give myself. Make a daily 'no' part of your spiritual discipline. Speaking of which, I gotta get off nba.com and go work out ‘Ìâ‰âÂÌâ_ After this episode of Mythbusters.