In 2018 I ran two half marathons on sheer willpower, in the way only a 23-year-old can. I did not train beforehand, and I went on approximately one post-half run each time before realising I was out of shape and, without the crowds cheering me on, running was not fun.
I reckon those half marathons were like great Christian conferences. Incredibly fun, incredibly exhausting, and only life changing if you take what you learned across the weekend and apply it to your everyday life.
At the start of this year, after not running for a very long time, I decided to run a little bit every day for as long as it was healthy and fun. I expected it would be an exercise in self-control, and I hoped I’d get a bit more fit, but I didn’t expect that running would become one of my favourite ways to connect with and learn from God.
Observation One: Being Still Doesn’t Make Something Holier
I’ve always wanted to be a journaling girl. In fact, I think so much of my personality lends itself to being a journaling girl. But the reality is, when I sit still, my mind wanders. I fidget, I think about my to-do list, I suddenly find myself scrolling on my phone.
But when I run, when I’m moving my body and my heart starts beating fast, my mind relaxes. After sitting at a desk for eight hours, I put on my running shoes, I move my body, and my brain and my heart start to listen to what God might be saying and doing. There is nothing overtly spiritual about going for a run, but neither is there anything overtly spiritual about sitting at your kitchen table writing out your thoughts.
A spiritual practice is a spiritual practice because in it we commune with God. Whether you’re moving fast or sitting still, it is the focus of the heart and soul that makes a practice spiritual. When I freed myself up from the false idea that meeting with God always requires physical stillness, I could meet with God in a way that stilled my soul.
Observation Two: Sometimes It Won’t Feel Great
Running as a part of my regular life rhythm has also taught me heaps about how to think about other spiritual practices, like prayer and reading Scripture.
Some days when I run, I feel on top of the world. I feel tough and strong and energised, like I could tackle any problem before me. Other times, I’m grumpy for the entirety of the run. I don’t feel like I’m moving smoothly, I can’t get my clothes to sit comfortably, and even my slowest pace feels as exhausting as a sprint.
But I’ve never regretted a run. The cumulative positive effect of running regularly means that even the runs that feel like garbage are doing something good for my body, and the ways my body grows stronger in the hard runs makes it possible for me to have the ‘top of the world’ runs.
I will not feel close to God every time I pray. Some days I will close my Bible and feel like my time could have been better spent reading a novel or washing the dishes. But every time I pray, God listens. Every time I read Scripture, God speaks, even if it’s in an almost imperceptible whisper. The health of my body depends on my leaning in on the hard days, and the same is true of my soul.
Keep the Faith
Running metaphors are frequently used in the Bible, and we can quote them to the point of them feeling like cliches.
That being said, as I think about the impact of running on my faith, I can’t help but reflect on some of Paul’s parting words to Timothy, ‘I have fought the good fight, I have finished the race, I have kept the faith.’ (2 Timothy 4:7)
Having just finished a race last weekend, this metaphor feels even more poignant. The race was the victory lap of months of training, and I was equal parts exhausted and invigorated at the end. Everything I learned from the last few months will carry into the next race, making me stronger, smarter, and more excited.
As we work through this series, and as I learn more about building a life structured around God, I am eager to lace up my shoes, run my laps around Princes Park, and keep the faith. Some days will be hard, some days I’ll lose my focus, some days prayer and running will feel entirely unworthwhile.
But by God’s grace, through the daily practice of meeting with Him, I will fight the good fight, run the race, and keep the faith.