“Why in the world am I doing this?”
“I feel pretty good right now!”
“I feel like I am going to die.”
“That was a great run.”
“That was a…well, rather exhausting run.”
“I feel like I could run for miles!”
“I feel like I couldn’t run for another ten feet!”
Anybody that has picked up running as a sport has felt and expressed all of the above statements and more. Growing up, I played nearly every sport imaginable: soccer, basketball, football, floor hockey, tennis, racquetball, hacky-sack (is that a sport?), skiing, snowboarding (a bit), biking, etc. And although many of these sports involve running, some of them quite extensively, running is not the goal. It is one of the many components of that sport.
After reading the intriguing account of the running of the super-athlete Tarahumara Indians in the book Born to Run by Christopher McDougall, I started to run with my wife sporadically. I even went out and actually purchased a pair of running shoes. We ran at a track at times; other times we ran on back country roads. We started to really enjoy getting out and just running. We weren’t in a hurry to break any records or run fast. We just enjoyed the exercise, the outdoors, and each other’s company. Later that year, we ran our first 5K in the great city of Chicago.
In 2013, my wife and I ran on and off but with no regularity. And then with our move to South Jersey in the late summer, our running pretty much came to a halt. We ran a handful of times since we had been here in Jersey, but it was time for more.
One of my goals for 2014 is to run thirty minutes a day, three times a week. It has been during these mostly early morning runs that I have embraced running as my enemy, my friend. You see, there are times when running seems like torture. At other times, it seems like you are gliding on air and could run indefinitely. My body screams, “I HATE YOU and I LOVE YOU” within the same run. In other words, I hate running and yet I love running.
It reminds me of this dreaded flesh that we are stuck with until the redemption of the body for the Christian. The Apostle Paul stated that “no man ever yet hated his own flesh but nourisheth and cherisheth it.” And yet at another time, the same man said “For I know that in me (that is, in my flesh,) dwelleth no good thing:” He realized the dual relationship a Christian man has with his own body/flesh.
At times I nourish and cherish my flesh; at times I loathe my flesh. And just like running, the battle is not won by the body or the flesh, it is won in the mind. You can run much further than you think you can (yes, even you). Ask any running coach – once an athlete gets into shape – it is more a mental battle than anything when running. In order to persevere while exhausted, to continue running when faint, to press toward the finish line without quitting, a mental toughness is required. And the very arena in which the battle is waged can become your friend. Why? It will strengthen you for future runs.
Likewise, in the Christian life, the battle is not won by how you outwardly perform. By and large, the Christian race is won and lost in the mind. The wise man in Proverbs truly said it best when he said, “As a man thinketh in his heart, so is he…” So to those of you who are about to quit in this race called the Christian life, revamp your thought life. Strengthen yourself mentally. Meditate on Scripture. Think godly, positive thoughts. You will become stronger and you will look back on those tough days as your friends.
For you fellow runners – if you see someone alongside the road with a half-frown, half-smile on his face, you will know it was me thinking about my run – my enemy, my friend.