Find Rest for the Soul

When I was losing weight to meet the physical standards for my entrance, application, and accession process to the United States Air Force, I had to be tough and strict with myself to lose 97 pounds in nine months. In order to lose a big amount of pounds in such a short time, I had to be very careful with how much carbohydrates I took since I was on the strict keto diet at the time. I was only allowed 25 grams of carbohydrates a day and reduced my caloric intake to 1,330 calories a day. Of course, there were necessary physical trade-offs (and risks) that I knew I had to take, but I also had good friends and parishioners who are doctors and healthcare professionals that I checked in with throughout the journey. I was very grateful for their guidance and encouragement as I pushed myself to lose the necessary pounds to fit the required (strict) weight-to-height standards.

I was doing all of this in secret because the official decision was still in the work and not made public yet. I was still ministering and running three parishes at the same time. We were trying to recover and reintegrate from the pandemic. It was definitely a hard and trying time on many different (ministerial and personal) levels! Of course, my parishioners were asking me a lot of questions. Some were sad because I rejected their home-cooked meals (because they were not good for my diet). I became grouchy and irritable at times, too, because I was tired and wanted to give up but cannot because I still had a strict timeline to follow. I was frustrated at times because people kept harping me but I cannot share with them the real reason for my weight loss journey. All I knew was that the military has strict standards and I needed to push myself to meet them, or else my application would be sitting in the pile and not be processed for the next step. So… I dug deep… I prayed for strength and perseverance every day. This was a no-fail mission…

Since carbohydrates are fuels for the body (and being on intermittent fasting and caloric reduction regimen on top of the keto diet) means that I cannot do many physical exercises without straining myself. I was ultimately advised to discern and make a personal decision on whether I wanted extreme weight loss or building up muscle endurance. It was working fine in the beginning when I needed the rapid weight loss to get down to the required weight for MEPS. However, when I was told that I had to begin to work on my physical standards in preparation for basic military training, it became a challenge to properly keep both objectives well.

I made some wrong decisions at the beginning of the transition process because I thought I could do both. Like many people, I think I could overcome my physical limitations if I just push myself through it. However, I was wrong. My body was in a lot of pain as I pushed myself too much through daily runs, push-ups, and sit-ups. I finally gave in a call to a good Catholic who is a physical therapist for guidance. She told me that I need to give my muscles time to heal and rest, or else I will do more harm to myself, thus physical exercises would become counter-effective. It was not what I wanted to hear as I faced many timelines and goals to be met, but I had to listen to my body and the professional advice of someone who I trusted. I needed to do what was best for me in the long run!

Over and over again, we tend to fail to listen to our very own body and soul tell us what is needed and truly good for us. If we need rest for our body to recuperate, imagine our soul as well! We tend to forget that our soul is the mover of the body, and the relationship between the two is so integral; hence, when we ignore this reality, we continue to be restless and lost in our very own relationship of faith. That is why I have repeatedly heard so many people tell me in pastoral counseling and appointment sessions that they cannot hear the voice of God and pray well because they are too distracted, anxious, worried, frustrated, or deterred from the spiritual life. When we are constantly on the move, filled with so many things that are pulling us apart all the time, we remain preoccupied and restless so it becomes very hard to listen, be attentive, and find rest in God.

Therefore, it is very important to recognize and humbly admit that we need time to pray, reflect, and rest in God, or else we will constantly remain agitated, worried, frustrated, anxious, pulled apart, or distracted everywhere by the things of this world. As a matter of fact, the Lord Jesus Christ had given us real examples of what it means to pray and prioritize our spiritual relationship with God. Over and over again, we have seen numerous examples and instances in the Gospel accounts when the Lord retreated into deserted places to pray. For Him, His relationship with the Heavenly Father was the utmost important priority! Without a doubt, the Lord showed us through His very own life examples an important lesson to emulate, imitate, and live as His very own disciples.

The Savior taught us how to pray and that prayer is very important! Even though He was constantly busy in His very own public ministry, with many sick, ill, possessed, and unwell people asking Him to heal them, teaching at the local synagogues, and caring for the less fortunate, abandoned, and forgotten, Christ never forget how to pray and made times to be with His Heavenly Father. The works He did was not simply to make things better, to glorify Himself, or concerning the physical healing of people alone! They were all done to restore people back to their original dignity, image, and likeness made by God. In many of His healings and miracles, He asked the petitioners for their faith and trust in Him! He wanted to heal and restore them deep from within, not just only on the outside alone. His miracles and actions were works of prayers and of love, received, given, and shared with others.

Our Lord prayed at all times. Even before His Passion, He prayed in the Garden of Gethsemane that His cup be taken away if possible, but not as He willed but as the Father willed for Him. Even on the Cross, the Lord recited and prayed the Psalm when He uttered in pain the famous line, “My God, my God, why have you abandoned me?” Over and over again, our Savior taught us that prayer is not just an option, a convenience, or something to do when everything else failed. Prayer, for us, needs to be the utmost priority in order to strengthen, anchor, and lovingly receive from God the gift of grace, peace, and joy to be shared and be the necessary nourishment for our very own lives.

We really cannot give to others what we ourselves do not have or possess! If we do not have a personal, intimate, loving, self-giving, genuine, and transparent relationship with God, we will end up serving, justifying, or living for our very own self-centered needs. We have seen that in recent times in many different ways, especially with so many people who claim to be Christians, but their lives or messages are not really Christocentric or show a deeper life of prayer. It is so easy, and very dangerous, to use God or religion for an agenda, but He and our faith remain far from our empty words and humanistic ideologies. If that is the case, then we will build up individual kingdoms, yet divisive and destructive, because it all boils down to whoever has the most influence, popularity, or being vocal that we speak about the Almighty and faith but our lives, words, and actions are nothing than self-serving and humanistic fulfillments.

Prayers are the breath and lifeline for our soul because, without prayers, we cannot receive the grace needed from He who created, loved us into being, and continues to guide us on our journey back to Him. Therefore, no matter what, we have to pray! One of my spiritual directors once told me a piece of wisdom that he treasured, and I still treasured it in my own priestly life today: “Keep your prayers, and your prayers will keep you!” Within that short sentence lies the secret and wellspring of our spiritual life.

There will be days when we are unable to pray well or as we would have liked. There will be times when we are filled with many worries, distractions, anxieties, or matters that occupy our minds; but no matter what is going on, we can always come to prayer as we are able. I know personally that there are times in my life that I just have to come to the Lord and simply say to him, “Lord, you know my heart… You know that I love you!” And what is so beautiful about our God is that He knows and understands the deepest secrets and desires of our hearts! Even when we cannot put into words what we are going through, He knows and is present with us. All He ever desires is that we come to Him, be genuine, transparent, and present to Him as we are able!

Prayer times are not about coming to the Lord with a laundry list of wants and needs. Many times, they will simply look like we are wasting time with God because we are not able to truly put into words what we are going through or feeling at the moment. Nevertheless, the secret to prayers is our humble willingness to “waste” and spend time with Him! It is never about having things our way or being able to say something to Him as we would have liked; because just as in any relationship, our Creator wants our heartfelt love.

Therefore, let us make time to rest, receive, and give ourselves totally, genuinely, and transparently to the Lord who wants our love and desires to spend time with us. No matter what is going on in life right now, I think we can all make time to lift up our hearts to Him and find rest in loving care. Even though we might not be able to say much, as long as we try our best to come, and even when it seems unproductive and we have received nothing from prayer, our faith, hope, and love remind us that nothing is ever wasted, insignificant, or forgotten by God. Thus, let us make time to find rest for our souls in Him who loves us!