Category Archives: Spiritual Sprints

Spiritual Sprints: Lessons Learned on the Run

IMG_3318I thought I would cry — an ugly, sobbing, boo-hoo kind of cry. But I didn’t. In fact, based on the picture to the left, I was doing just the opposite, smiling buoyantly. The picture perfectly captures exactly how I felt as I crossed the finish line after running 13.1 miles – SHOCKED RELIEF!

When I started my half-marathon training plan over four months ago, it was with a sense of determination. I needed a challenge to focus on; I needed a “win” in my life. For some reason, I decided a 13.1 mile race should do it. Some days I trained happily, others begrudgingly. Some days I felt strong; others I gave up and quit. Yet, I stuck to the plan, paid my entry fee and showed up early Saturday morning dressed to run — filled with a mix of anxiety and excitement.

In less than three hours, it was all over. My four months of training centered around a mere 3 hour event. Yet after it was over, I realized I learned more than just what it felt like to complete a half-marathon.

Lessons Learned on the Run

1. The fun of a new adventure will always wear off and then the real work begins. Somewhere after the four-mile marker, I texted my husband: “Over four miles and still feeling good. C u soon!”  I was feeling great and my legs felt strong. Along mile 8, my hip started hurting. Then, not long after, my knee got stiff. It was those last 5 miles when my “embrace the suck” skills kicked in. I wouldn’t stop now no matter how bad it hurt, but now instead of running for fun, I was working to run. In life, we often want to participate as long as it’s fun. We want to pursue the dream, as long as everything works out. However, when the real work of discipline and details kicks in, we opt out. But remember this: it’s the moments of real work that get us across the finish line.

2. Small victories lead to big ones.  I trained for this race using a run/walk pace. Loosely translated, that means I ran for a certain amount of time followed by a walk. Obviously the running time is always higher than the walking, which is where the victory comes in. One thing I was determined to do was stick to my training pace (4 minute run/1.5 minute walk). During the first few miles, this plan seemed easy. However, at miles 11 and 12, just running for four minutes was daunting – and sometimes nearly impossible. My legs screamed for rest; my mind wanted to quit. I told myself over and over, just 4 minutes and you get to walk again. Then set after set of run/walk ticked by, and I found myself at the finish line. I won my race every time I completed a 4 minute run. It was pushing through the small challenges that lead to the major victory. (That’ll preach!)

3. The road gets lonely at times. There were certain parts of the course where I was completely alone. I could see a few runners ahead of me, but they weren’t within talking distance. It was just me alone with my thoughts and the steady pound of pavement. During those moments, it was harder to run. I couldn’t feel the pull of the runner’s pace ahead of me. There was no one speaking words of encouragement as they ran beside me. Yet I kept on knowing two things: eventually I would catch up to the runner ahead of me or someone behind me would match my pace. Truthfully, the road has to be lonely sometimes because that’s when we are forced to talk to the One who is always there to listen. And that’s exactly what I did.

4. We all need a cheerleader. I’m all about encouraging people. In fact, that was one of my favorite parts of the race – cheering people on as they passed me. (Our course had a lot of loops where I passed other runners often.) I had people doing the same for me. Random texts dinged on my phone as I ran; friends sending words of encouragement and pride. For me though, the best part was knowing someone was waiting for me at the finish line. That when it was all over, someone would be there to give me a high five, document the look on my face as I crossed the finish line, and revel in the power of the moment. Saturday, my husband was my cheerleader. Other days for other life “races,” it has been friends or family members. I will tell you that without a doubt those who cheer for me have made a difference in the race I run – physically and spiritually.

5. We can always rise to the challenge if we stay with it. The last two weeks of my training schedule, I wanted to quit. In fact, I asked myself several times, “Why do you need to do this?” Another voice in me said you’ve worked too hard to throw it away. So I kept training and forced my doubts and laziness aside. The morning of the race, I was filled with nervousness, but also a sense of determination to finish what I had started. The start gun fired, and I set off to do what I had trained to do. You know what? I did it. I crossed the finish line. Was it easy? No. It wasn’t easy during training, so the actual race wasn’t going to be easy. I had all kinds of doubts, but I wouldn’t give in to them. I took one step at a time (sometimes literally); I trained one day at a time. I raced one 4-minute run at a time. That’s what it takes to overcome our challenges or to achieve our dreams. It is my hope that long after this race is over, I will let my “finish” spur me on to do the same in other areas of my life. After all, if I conquered a mere 13.1 miles, there’s not much else I can’t do. Right?!


Spiritual Sprints: Unhooking the Hindrances

Spiritual SpringsWhen running a race, any expert runner will give you this advice: “Don’t wear new running clothes or shoes on the day of a race.” Why? It will prove a hindrance when the non-broken-in shoe begins rubbing blisters on the heels. Or when those cute new running shorts prove to be a distraction as they “ride high” in places they aren’t supposed to go. Ultimately, stick with the broken-in gear that doesn’t distract the runner from the finish line.

My running pace can be hampered by a myriad of obstacles. A frayed string constantly tickling my leg. A loose waistband sliding further down with each step. A headphone cord rhythmically and annoyingly tapping on my arm. Each one of these distractions impedes my mental toughness and diverts my focus. Therefore, I make a point to rid myself of these issues before any run.

Even Paul recognized the struggle runners face when they encounter distractions. He also knew the Christian life would be much the same. Philippians 12:1-2 says, “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 . . . .”

While most of us recognize the sins part of that verse, we rarely stop and consider the hindrances part. Paul took time to separate the two ideas because they must be examined separately. Sins tend to be a little more obvious, especially with the help of the Holy Spirit. However, hindrances hide.

Wonder where they hide? Let’s look at this modern day — and possibly personal — example. Every afternoon, a woman peruses social media outlets. She encounters various pictures, status updates, and video links. In fact, one picture depicted a family enjoying a glorious trip to the beach. A status update shares that a few old friends got together for a girls night out. Then she watches a video link explaining the Top 10 Must-Have Summer Styles. When she finally signs out, she’s sad and maybe a little angry, but she doesn’t understand why.

Suddenly, it hits her. All those status posts, pictures, and videos have pointed out exactly what she doesn’t have. Due to a recent move, friends whom she could share a girls’ night out don’t exist. With the recent job change, a beach vacation is not in her near future. And one look in her closet quickly reminds her, she does not have any summer “must haves.” However, she does have many other valuables: the possibility of new friendships, a happy family, a fulfilling new job. Yet, she finds herself discontent, rejected, lonely, and unhappy.

All these emotions stirred up from one stroll through the Social Media Park of Perceived Perfections. This, my friends, is a hindrance. Not the social media itself, but the feelings we let it awaken. Now instead of be content and focused on the day’s tasks, we are distracted by unhappiness that bleeds over into our home. We aren’t “sinning” necessarily, but our walk with Christ is hindered because we have stopped focusing on Him and are now focusing on ourselves.

While the “hypothectical” social media example is true, many other life elements can hinder our relationship with God. Consider these:

  1. Lack of discipline – This comes in many forms. It could be in our jobs, our education, our health, our pursuit of God’s call. The list is long.
  2. Worldly-focus – not in the sinful way, but by being more concerned with the needs of this life (money, social status, good job, comfortable home) than the needs of others in this life.
  3. Good “Causes” – this seems to be the cry of today’s generation: justice for the injustice. Yet I worry that the passion for the cause outweighs the passion for Christ.
  4. Hobbies – while these are useful and needful for a balanced life, I’ve often seen lives where hobbies became time-suckers. Take me, for example, my hobby is reading. I could spend entire days laser-focused on a good book and let the world turn without me. If I don’t take guard, my hobby hampers my relationship with Christ and the job He’s asked me to do.

This list is relatively short, but I’m sure you could add a few extra numbers of your own hindrances. While few of these hindrances are sin, they are things that can quickly distract us from our walk with Christ. And a distracted Christian is all Satan needs to keep God from being known.

So today, as you lace up your running shoes, check for those hindrances in your own life. And just as Paul says, “throw them off” and “run with perseverance.”