This week, I’ve been reflecting on some words from my wise friend and pastor Paul, who once told me to live my life the way that I run. His advice has been in my thoughts all week.
I took up running in 2008, thanks completely to the encouragement and guidance of Vic Keller, a running coach who works out of the downtown YM/YWCA here in Winnipeg. Even though some mornings, my body is as creaky as an old barn, I feel blessed that I can still lace up the runners and head out the door. Some days I wonder how I’ll make it to the end of my goal, and other days the time flies by and I feel strong. I know every runner probably has the same experience.
One of the things I consistently notice when I run is that the first 10 minutes is the worst. I know that running is as much a physical challenge as a mental one as I begin to battle my inner protests. I invariably have thoughts like, “This is crazy. I am out of breath, my nose is running, my eyes are tearing up – I can’t keep going. Why am I doing this?” Etc. Etc. I huff and puff and feel like quitting. I’m so used to these thoughts that by now I just tell myself it’ll get better, and it always does. It’s not that the rest of the run is a breeze, but something kicks in and I’m able to put up with the sweat and pounding heart. I listen to podcasts or music, I try to enjoy the scenery if I’m outside, and I keep going. In the end, I’m always glad I didn’t give up.
I talk to my students all the time about exercising stamina when they are practicing their reading. Knowing that we only get better at reading by reading, I remind them to stick with it and not to let themselves get distracted when reading is difficult. My own words come back to me constantly as I run.
I was reflecting on all this during the week and it got me back to Paul’s wise words about running and life. “Try to exercise inner stamina during your days,” Paul told me, “like when you run. As you meet life’s challenges and keep your eyes on your goal, you are increasing your longevity and stamina and as you do you become stronger.”
Paul knows me pretty well, and knows what a softie I am inside. Like my protests in the first 10 minutes of my run, I seem to automatically prefer an easier life. I don’t know where I picked this up. Maybe it’s just human nature. Whether it’s body ills, that old propensity towards depression, or students whose troubles in life affect me, I can get whiny pretty quickly.
It’s become a spiritual discipline to counter my propensity to being soft with exercising inner stamina. I don’t mean just gritting my teeth and putting up with things. I mean overlooking discomfort because of the goal before me, and to me, the goal is one word: God in Jesus (ok that’s 3 words). If I see my challenges in life through my own eyes, I become discouraged, but to see them as Jesus would changes everything. In Jesus’ eyes, everything belongs, even challenges. Instead of giving in to discouragement, I can remember that God uses every experience to form us. Inner protests come and go, but it is immeasurably helpful to turn them into prayers for help instead of mere complaints.
Paul gave me a verse from the New Testament to go with the encouragement to exercise stamina:
We continue to shout our praise even when we’re hemmed in with troubles, because we know how troubles can develop passionate patience in us, and how that patience in turn forges the tempered steel of virtue, keeping us alert for whatever God will do next. (Romans 5:3)
Another wise person has said, “Never put a period where God has put a comma.” Troubles are never the final word with God. They are the building blocks of character because God is using everything in our path to continue the story of healing and love. I am usually short-sighted, but God keeps reminding me to keep my eyes on the goal.
These thoughts wove their way through the ups and downs of my week and gave me hope and perserverance.