I go running to feel like I’m alive.
In youth ministry, (and in many other forms of ministry), the word “schedule” doesn’t exactly exist. You work when others don’t, so you can be there for them when they are free. Sometimes this means a more relaxed schedule, but other times it adds up to a kind of discombobulation that has me feeling very out of sorts.
Going on a run brings my body back into order. Blood runs through my whole being and reminds me that I am not many different parts but a functioning whole. It’s on my runs, without chemicals like caffeine to pull me through, that I realize when I am deeply tired, in spirit and in body.
It’s also the chance to wake up. My muscles stretch and smoulder. The sharp cold ruddies my cheeks and opens my eyes wide to see the world in all its beauty, the trees a-riot with color and the Neckar bubbling in its overwhelming fall fullness.
After about half an hour on a good, long run, after I have gotten my initial beastly energy out, I start to feel old injuries come back.
My left ankle has been weak ever since I twisted it in 9th grade while playing catch with 3 kids I was babysitting. There is an irritated ligament under my right knee cap that burns when I’ve run too long, even if I stretch before and after. It’s annoying, but the fact that it is not perfectly in-sync with the rest of my body reminds me to take care. My hips, well, they’ve been messed up since birth (my parents used to double-diaper me as a baby in hopes they wouldn’t “click” so much when I walked).
This might seem odd to you, but when I run, my injuries remind me in many ways of my life of faith. I wonder,
- Why it is that we (I at least) seem to struggle again and again with the same sins and frustrations? How come the old injury comes back to bother me, instead of going away and letting a new one show up? Sometimes I wrestle in sharp pain with my injuries. Other times the injury stays “under control” – good physical care and regular exercise keep it in check. But if I haven’t run in a while, and then try again, the injury flares up fast, and hinders me from surging forward at the pace I wish I could go.
- My injuries also remind me that I am unique. Other people have issues with their knees and ankles, but they don’t have mine. They don't have the white concrete driveway and black asphalt, the baseball mit and the blue-suede Skechers that led to my demise. Every one of my injuries has a story, a time and a place where it happened. This reminds me of an observation C.S. Lewis made in his book, Miracles; that our sins are equally as owned and unique to us as our fingerprints or personality. This struck me when I first read it, because I hadn't thought of it before: sin is something that is a shared experience by all of humanity: we have recognized it and named it and attempted to share with one another how we deal with it, in the same way we recognize that every person has a miniscus, and know what surgery to undertake when it is torn. We also recognize sins that are corporate and social. But, like any specific tear on a specific miniscus, my sins are deeply personal. God made me so unique, in fact, that not only am I the only Amanda Munroe in the world with my DNA, but the manner in which I sin is woven specificly into who I am.
- Why is this so? Why do we struggle most of our lives with the same "sins", or let's put it this way: cowardices, injuries and doubts? What makes it so hard to conquer them, or what makes it harder to deal with the ones that already belong to us and easier to avoid the ones we have never tried? Why are we more inclined to hurt and be hurt one way and not another?
Which brings me back to running...
When I run, I can feel where things that are out of place – I feel the tightness in my shoulders where my backpack usually hangs, and the weight sitting on my hipbones that really is quite pointless and rather hindersome to carry around with me, especially when running. In the same way that it makes me aware of my body, running gives me space and time to feel where I am carrying burdens of emotional or spiritual stress. On short runs, this means going through my to-do list. On long runs, when it rains, I cry, because I remember the people I miss, the relationships that are broken, and the extra weight and injuries I am carrying around that I wish weren’t there.
I wish I knew a better way to incorporate the process (or ringer) that my body goes through when I run to my personal devotional life, and welcome your ideas about how you reflect on the state of things. One thing I am sure of is that our bodies mirror our souls, and that God gave us both for a reason.
And so I go running, to feel like I am alive.