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How Running Helped Me View My Spiritual Life

October 24, 2012

In my life, I have found that we can learn important lessons from our jobs, our friendships, our hobbies, and other mundane things. To be a learner does not necessitate going to a nice college, or reading some dull-looking books written by besweatered academics with impressive leftist credentials. Instead, it means keeping an open mind and looking for ways we can view our experiences with new eyes (college and leftists academics help….a little.) This applies to our spiritual lives as well as our physical lives. As Christians, since everything comes back to Christ, we can view our experiences as mirrors of our experience of union with Christ, as well as viewing them on their own terms. With this in mind, I will show the spiritual lessons I learned from my experiences running.

The blessed feet of the one who carries the Gospel of Peace probably wear Nikes

1.) Just Do It: Let’s face it: I’m kind of lazy. When I began running last year, it wasn’t something I would want to do in most situations. In fact, it wasn’t something I would want to do at all. I much rather would lie on the couch and take a nap than run. I soon realized that if I was going to become physically fit instead of being the close approximation of Steve Rogers at the beginning of Captain America that I was, I would have to get out and run. No procrastination. No excuses. Just running. I had to suck up my fears and regrets and just go out and run. The hardest part of running was getting myself to go to the gym.

The same thing applies to our spiritual lives. If often think to myself “I’ll read the Bible later” or “I’ll work on a closer relationship with God–tomorrow.” The problem is that there is no tomorrow, and when I say “I’ll read the Bible later,” I mean “later” in the same way that a girl means later when she says “I’ll tell you whether I want to go out with you later.” Once I start to do these things I will benefit from them–the problem is starting.

This is me before I started exercising.

2.) Be Regular: In high school, I could never get any serious exercising accomplished because I did not regularly make time to exercise. (Also, because I was a lazy wimp.) In college, I made it a serious goal to have specific times that I ran and worked out. It took a lot to stick to the schedule for the first few weeks. But after about three weeks of working out at a specific time, it became second nature to me. I still have trouble with forgetting to work out sometimes. But because I have a detailed schedule, I get it done.

Unless I set up specific times and places to talk to God (and this is something I have problems with), then I don’t talk to God. If it’s not on the schedule, it doesn’t happen.  The idea of only praying spontaneously sounds great, but unless your name is St. Francis, it’s probably not going to happen. Scheduling prayers and Bible reading may seem stifling, but like anything scheduled, it will give unexpected rewards. To paraphrase C.S. Lewis, you will be surprised how the heart sings unbidden while going through your 8:30 devotion. Moderns have a problem with doing rote, repetitive, planned-out things because we are easily bored. Don’t fall into the bottomless pit of boredom. Better to have good, scheduled devotions rather than an exciting and pious idea of “spontaneous praise” that never becomes reality.

This is my idea of running

3.) Do it Again. And Again. And Again. Do it until it becomes Enjoyable. When I first started running, I hated it. It was miserable. It was like torture to me. I kept on. And kept on. And kept on. Now, I enjoy running for some strange reason, but it took me many miserable workouts to get to that point. I had to work hard to get to the point where running was fun.

When you get down to seriously reading the Bible for the first time in a long time (or ever), it probably won’t be instantly enjoyable. Nor will it be that way the second time. Nor the third. It takes a long while for this to happen. Serious pleasure requires serious work. Any promise of satisfaction with no work is straight up a lie. Just as it takes hard work to get biceps of steel, it takes hard work to appreciate the work of God. But oftentimes we want to go for microwave prayers and McDonald’s Bible Study instead of the hard and sometimes unpleasant work of serious devotion, and what we get is “Jesus I Love You, Help, Amen.” and repeated readings of Psalm 117. This is not a recipe for growth.

4.) Keep Your Eyes on Target. When I finally became acclimated to running, I began to look for ways to improve my running. I found that I ran a lot better if I kept my head straight and looked ahead, instead of looking at my feet and moving my head around. Some people can pull of the Eric Liddell style of running, but not me. I instead went for the Margaret Feinberg style of running–look far ahead into the distance and run straight toward that point. (Unfortunately, the Margaret Feinberg style of running has nothing to do with taking your shoes off, or meeting your soulmate in Alaska, or sheep, or anything else remotely interesting.) I realized that I needed to stay focused on my target to get there faster. If I ran teleologically, then I would have better form and reach the end faster.

The Christian life isn’t primarily about avoiding sin, proving other religions are wrong, or being a “good person.” It isn’t even primarily about integrating faith and learning, or spreading the Gospel through social justice or any other amount of good things. The Christian life is primarily about glorifying God and enjoying him forever. Everything in our life should begin and end in Christ, the Alpha and Omega. While avoiding sin, being a good person, integrating faith and learning or spreading social justice are good things, they become false idols if they distract us from Christ. We need to keep our eyes on Christ if we are to be effective Christians. Too often in my struggles with sin and doubt I have acted like the prime directive in my life was to avoid sin or resolve doubt. But I realize more and more in those situations that even if the sin or doubt was taken away, my life would not substantially change. It is only when I focus on the positive aspect of developing my personal relationship with Christ that I can ever resolve these problems. A life without glaring sins and doubts is worthless if it is without Christ.

These are my reflections on running the race. How have your experiences in your life affected your relationship with Christ? Please comment and share.

This is me before I started exercising.

This is me after I started exercising. Note that I lost the deep summer tan that I had in the first picture.

This is how I look now.

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