Saturday, October 30, 2010, I competed in my first 10k (that's 6.2 miles for all you Americans) Race. Only a couple years ago, I hated running and wondered why anyone would put themselves through the torture of bouncing up and down and breathing hard when you can just as well walk. But now running has become so much more than a physical discipline to me... it is a release, it is a goal to reach, it is a spiritual journey. During the 10k, God impressed me with so many spiritual applications that I've had trouble processing and condensing everything into a neat little blog post. Still... the lessons were so profound to me that I can't help but share at least one story. So here goes...
The Pipestem 10k Pumpkin Run was held at a WV state park on a cold, crisp morning. Having never seen the course, for some crazy reason I expected it to be what I call "WV flat", in other words more hills than most other states but not vertical enough to count as a "WV hill". The first mile proved me wrong. I briskly jogged down.... down... down.... a long hill with two thoughts rotating through my mind: "Hey, this downhill is easy! I feel great!" and "Uh-oh.... I'm pretty sure we have to backtrack this whole section. What goes down must come up. It's gonna kill me!"
I tried not to anticipate the agony of running back up the "Hill of Death", but inevitably I had to make the turn and begin the never-ending trudge. As I ran, I kept lying to myself (you'd be surprised the crazy things I tell myself while I'm running!) "It's not that bad. You're doing fine. You're almost there." This tactic usually works, but this time I got to a point where my body screamed, "It IS that bad! You're NOT doing fine--look at all the people passing you! And you are nowhere near the top-- in fact, it feels like you're moving backwards!"
What do you do when your body and mind get into an argument? When your will desperately wants to achieve but your flesh desperately cries, "I can't!" When the easiest thing in the world and the worst thing in the world is to just stop running?
My will couldn't hold up much longer so I called out to God in prayer. I prayed for every breath, for every step forward, I prayed that my will and determination would last, that my muscles would keep moving. It seemed silly to ask the Creator of the universe to help me finish a race, but at the same time it felt perfectly natural because He is the sustainer of my body as well as its Creator, and He is deeply involved in every part of my life. He understands how incredibly spiritual this run was for me.
The reason I felt so desperate to make it to the top of the hill was much bigger than a cheap trophy or any claim to fame. I realized that this hill was my whole race. If I could make it up and over this one hill, the rest of the race didn't matter because I had overcome the obstacle that tried to tear me down. And I realized, in between screaming muscles and heaving breath: This Hill is the Race, this Race is my Life. If I were to fail on this hill, this physical challenge, I knew I would be unprepared for spiritual battles in the future. In life, I regularly encounter challenges that try to defeat me. They are all much too hard for me to overcome-- I am too weak to avoid that sin or to love that stranger or to pray that radical prayer. But in my weakness, Christ--the Giver of my Life, the breath I breathe and the energy that moves me-- longs to make me strong and victorious. My job is to cling desperately to Him and to just keep going, using up every ounce of strength and ability that He gives so that He can refill me abundantly.
I feel like I left every ounce of strength, will, and breath on that WV hill that day. In Christ alone, I made it to the top and once I was there, I realized there was no reason to stop since the strength kept going. This is the way that Christ works in us, He always gives more grace and expects us to use up every drop in serving Him, so that He can refill us daily with grace, mercy, and wisdom. I truly believe that I ran that entire race--not stopping once-- and ended up winning a trophy as a result of God's grace. Some may disagree and accuse me of overspiritualizing the mundane things of life, but I can't help but see God at work in every aspect of who I am... whether I eat or drink or run or whatever I do, He can be glorified and He is at work.
This verse was the theme song of my run, and there are tons of ways I saw its practical applications that day. But I'll leave the applications to you, since it's late, this is long, and the applications are obvious. Look for them!
"Therefore, since we are surrounded by such a great cloud of witnesses, let us throw off everything that hinders and the sin that so easily entangles, and let us run with perseverance the race marked out for us." Hebrews 12:1