Last year I took up running. In fact, I didn’t just take up running, I took up a way of living that included looking giving kindness to myself. I did it because without another adult in our home, I alone need to be the example for my children, and they need to know the value of investing in oneself. They need to see and believe that I am worthy of coming first sometimes. Initially it felt foreign, to tell them I was going exercising, which of course meant that we were all going exercising, or at least going to the park while they played and I ran - or you could say, huffed and puffed and sweated ungracefully for an hour (I’ll never be accused of being a natural athlete…!).
When I could, I ran without the kids, and it quickly became therapeutic, meditative almost. I became someone I used to mock (in jest; I am that runner who yearns for a spare half an hour to run, who is disappointed when she can’t run, the one who runs in the rain even. There is certainly something to be said for the value of rhythm; the energetic pounding of my feet on the solid path, the cleansing deep breathing in/out in/out in/out, and the reassuring beating of my heart. It is healing.
I’m a deep thinker by nature, and in the early days, while I ran my mind was liberated from the endless domestic and sometimes burdensome challenges of life. While I ran, I was absolved of all those things, and just for half an hour, I allowed myself to think, in a reflective, mindful way. I thought about the children. I thought about work. I thought about my relationship with God. I thought about relationships of all sorts. I thought about my ambitions, my past, my grief, my joy, my worries. I thought about my deep-seeded dreams that rarely got much airtime in my heart or mind.
And I learnt something after months of all that running and rhythm and thinking. I learned that I was able to run faster, longer, and with more joy when I thought about what I was running TO, not what I was running FROM. If I was thinking about times of hurt, feelings of betrayal, or anger, I had to stop and walk more regularly, but if I thought about the destination of health, happiness, things I loved and how God loves me, my mind wasn’t distracted by the physical effort I was making to just keep going forward. So, while I trained my body to sustain the exertion of running, I was also inadvertently training my mind to look forward. Fitness was the prize for my physical efforts, and freedom from the weight of negativity was the reward for my spirit.
1 Corinthians (6:19-20) reminds us; “Therefore I do not run like someone running aimlessly. I do not fight like a boxer beating the air. No, I strike a blow to my body and make it my slave so that after I have preached to others, I myself will not be disqualified for the prize.” I take encouragement from this; the discipline I practice now, in running or in prayer, qualifies me for more than I have today. The more I invest in myself, both physically and spiritually, the more prepared I am for the reward.
And now, twelve months on, my feet pound energetically as they take me toward God, toward home, toward health. My breath doesn’t only cleanse my soul with meditative in/out repetition, it ignites the Holy Spirit within me. My beating heart doesn’t just give reassurance, it reminds me of the joy of being alive, and living for God… because if the promise of Jesus was at the end of a long run, I wouldn’t hesitate to sprint.