I’ve always envied those who run.
Maybe it’s the stamina they develop through practicing their craft. Maybe it’s the self-discipline it takes to carve out regular times of devotion to physical health. Maybe it’s the simple repetition of a task so innate to our human nature…one foot in front of the other; mere inches covered step by step adding up to miles. Maybe it’s the richness of metaphor found in the act; doing simple things with great devotion, developing perseverance at the mundane until a great distance lies behind you.
Maybe it’s the way all this adds up to something like integrity.
I’ve always envied those who run.
But it hasn’t always been an idle envy. From time to time I’ve flirted with this lifestyle myself over the years. Most recently it’s been my response to a job where I spend most of my time sitting, thinking, sitting, writing, sitting, visiting, and drinking coffee.
(interested in that career? check out http://www.emu.edu/seminary/!)
I envy runners, but I have a love/hate relationship with running itself. I love it when I’m not doing it, and I hate it when I am!
It’s not unlike the practice of faithful living. It feels good to have done it. But digging in and doing it takes something like effort and a tolerance for…I’ll just say it…boredom.
There’s not much that’s entertaining about running even only 3 miles. Especially when there’s no ipod or similar gadget to make the time pass quickly. It’s just a matter of putting one foot in front of the other. Then again. And again. And again.
For a number of miles.
It’s pretty awful the first time or two. But then you can sense that you’re body is getting used to it. You’re adjusting. And if you’re like me, you’ll still hate running, but you’ll like what it’s doing for you.
Spiritual disciplines are like that. They require a certain kind of endurance; a certain tolerance for pain and a humility that goes with the territory.
Last weekend I ran my first 5k. My goal was to run the entire race; to not walk until I passed the finish line. It was a goal I accomplished by keeping a slow, steady pace and not worrying about my time. A friend of mine who is a runner (as in marathons and such) walked the entire race because of a recent surgery he had. He started behind me, passed me, and finished before I did! In other words, he was walking faster than I ran!
But does that really matter?
We, both of us, finished the race. We both accomplished our goal for the morning, we both met some new friends, had a good time, and enjoyed some beautiful morning scenery while increasing our health and capacity for pain step by ragged step.
I find in this truth a helpful metaphor for life. God does not often work in big ways, covering miles at a time. Rather, it’s through the simple actions of His people faithfully putting one foot in front of the other; inches at a time; not performing great deeds with much power, but doing small things with great love. Whether we love it or hate it is not the point. Rather it’s finishing the race…this race; the course that’s been marked out for the journey we’re on right now.
Faith consists of moments in time; footsteps where mystery and certainty meet to form questions; questions that are sometimes painful, sometimes upsetting, and often more complex than we wish they were. The race we’re running is life itself; and whether the questions slow you down to a standstill, or propel you to the next step…that’s the real question. It’s a race against ourselves, and that’s why the grueling work of training is so important; to develop things like endurance, perseverance, and the spiritual muscles needed to run.
I envy runners.
I hate running.
But I love having run.