I’ve always hated running. The mile run in gym class was my personal nemesis each and every year. I dreaded it so much. I can still hear my PE teacher, Mr. Reimers, shouting “I can crawl a mile in 15 minutes so you all better finish faster than that!” I always made it, but not by much! So no one was more surprised than me when I took up running four years ago. I still hate running, and I don’t think that will ever change. I do it anyway, and here’s why.
1. I’m an ugly runner. It’s truly painful to watch. (Don’t believe me? Check out the pics in Running with Jesus.) But God’s creation is beautiful. I don’t even listen to music while running anymore. Instead I pay attention to the smell of lilacs in full bloom, the trees swaying in the breeze, and the stars, which have always been one of my favorite things in all of God’s creation!
2. I hate how I feel during a run, but I love how I feel after a run. Truthfully, I feel like I might die during a run. My lungs burn, my legs feel like dead weights, and my joints ache with every pounding step. But I love the adrenaline rush when it is all over! I feel stronger. I feel calmer. Somehow stress seems to melt away during a run and after there’s a new sense of clarity.
3. I hate that I’m not good at it, but I love that I’m getting better. Running is so concrete and measurable. I can see the improvement as I run longer and improve my pace. There’s a new “PR” possible with every time out.
4. I hate that I can’t compete with other runners, but I love the encouragement runners offer one another. It is a beautiful example of what Christian community is supposed to look like. Throughout his letters, Paul repeatedly urged followers of Jesus to encourage one another, build each other up, to be of one mind, and to live in peace. This is exemplified in the running community. No fellow runner, regardless of their skill level, has ever demeaned me for mine. Instead, I’ve received nothing but encouragement. I’ve even experienced more skilled, faster runners, coming back to cheer me on as I struggle to finish a race. I pray the Christian community learns to follow the lead of runners!
5. I hate how challenging running is for me, but I love taking on the challenge. Nothing is quite as satisfying as accomplishing something you weren’t quite sure you could do. One of my favorite quotes is from the movie “A League of Their Own.” The coach of the Rockford Peaches looks at his star player who has just quit the team because it “got too hard” and says, “It’s supposed to be hard. The ‘hard’ is what makes it great. If it wasn’t hard, everyone would do it.” How true! There is little satisfaction in doing something that’s easy.
6. I hate that running forces me to realize just how out of shape I really am, but I love that running is helping me take better care of my body. God has given me an earthly body and asked that I take care of it. I’m going to be honest, I don’t do a good job of caring for my body. The worse the food is for you, the more likely it is to be one of my favorites! And I can easily spend an entire day (or week) just laying on the couch, watching countless hours of television. But caring for my body means eating foods that are good for me and moving to the point of sweating. Running encourages me to eat in a more healthy way and gets my behind off the couch. I want the energy and stamina to serve God for many years to come, which means I need to take good care of the body He has given me!
7. I hate running but I love the way it has improved my spiritual life. I connect with Jesus when I run. I has done wonders for my prayer life because I’m in need of Jesus’ strength the entire time! I connect with God in a wonderful, unique, and inexplicable way when I’m running. Perhaps it is because running is often used as a metaphor for the journey of following Jesus. Psalms, Proverbs, and Isaiah speak of God’s strength allowing those who trust in Him to run and not grow faint or weary. Paul urges Jesus followers to run with purpose and determination in 1 Corinthians. In Hebrews, running is used as a way to encourage Christians to persevere even when life is difficult. Since I’m not planning on buying a sheep farm anytime soon, running is one of the Biblical analogies I can participate in and experience first hand.
And that’s where the connection to identity comes into play. The more I experience my relationship with Jesus in real and tangible ways, the more I am able to understand that my identity is found in His love for me. The more I rely on Him to do things that are difficult and challenging, the more I experience that love in real and powerful ways. So I’ll likely always hate running, but I’ll keep doing it anyway because I’ll always love what it does for my life.