Have you noticed that what we feel emotionally, often affects us physically? Tension headaches, canker sores and in bad cases (even not-so-bad cases, i.e. my wedding day!) blotchy red hives often accompany my stress. Since running, I have discovered that a heavy heart manifests itself too–as heavy feet! A few weeks ago I was feeling rotten. Stressed out, anxious about the future, and frankly just kind of sad. Let’s just say that on this particular morning I was NOT in the mood for running. I had more of the sit-on-the-couch-and-eat-lotsa-Doritos kind of mood, going on. However, I am striving to learn well the discipline of perseverance…and that means being faithful to the dog-eared piece of paper taped on our fridge–Hal Higdon’s “Half-Marathon Training Plan for the Novice” that has ruled my life since January. And sadly, it makes no mention of Nacho Cheesy Carbs combined with heavy doses of Self-Pity. It proclaimed cruelly instead: 8 MILES. So I laced up my shoes.
After the run? I was achy and sweaty and HAPPY. Somehow I was now in a totally different frame of mind. A flip had been switched and I marveled on the miracle-how could an hour and a half of actual PAIN mean I now felt peace, and hope, and joy? Cue lightbulb moment:
Turns out that, for my attitude? prayer and running are very much the same. The main difference is that I can pray without running, but I cannot run without praying.
Since then, I have been mulling over other ways that the two disciplines are quite similar and here are a few I’ve considered:
1. Both are natural to every human alive, even if only when under threat.
As children we ran. and we talked to God. Even without anyone teaching just how, it was just natural. What a shame that we “outgrow” such simplicity!
They say there is no atheist in a foxhole, and that is also true. So often in the darkest, hardest moments of life, a person will find themselves crying out to a God they neither believed in nor honored, when their life was still good.
And so it is with running, too. Because even if you haven’t done it since childhood? You will find how comes naturally it comes back, when a vicious snarling Doberman starts after you
2. and yet…both are unnatural to our flesh.
Walking is easy, and I’d done it for years…the “experts” insisted that alone was enough to lose weight, but that wasn’t true, for me. I walked for miles, and hours, both with friends and alone. Even completed a few half-marathons, walking. A little sweaty and tired, but not broken. Not changed. Running took me out of my comfort zone, almost immediately. I was spent, and sweaty and felt completely inadequate, after only a mile. I thought I was in decent shape from years of walking and exercise but running required more than I had. Prayer is similar. I go into quiet time and happily read chapters of the Bible-love it, simple, easy. Then the time comes to pray and I am often tongue-tied. or distracted. or feel completely inadequate. Jesus warned us “Watch and pray so that you don’t fall into temptation. For the spirit is willing, but the body is weak.” and anyone who has risen at 6 AM to pray, and fallen asleep instead, slumped over their Bible in the recliner? Knows He is talking to them. My body IS weak. EVERYDAY my spirit craves a long hard run, yet EVERYDAY my body protests the entire way!
running: my spirit loves being outdoors, worship music on the Ipod, the challenge of persevering through pain. my body loves stopping. and eating at Taco Bell.
praying: my spirit craves time alone with God, reading His word and sharing my heart with Him. my body prefers sleeping in, reading the Pottery Barn catalog, and facebook.
3. Both require getting past the initial discomfort, to grow.
Because I was once so terribly bad at both prayer and running? I couldn’t imagine a day would come that either would become something fluid, or natural. Something I both craved and needed on a regular basis. I stuck with prayer because I wanted to get to know this God, for myself (and the only way you connect with someone is through talking-we know this about others, but forget it is true about our Father-He’s a person.). I stuck with running out of sheer stubbornness. I kept stumbling along with both because those experts who had gone before me (found in running books and in christian books on prayer) encouraged: there are rewards. it’s hard, but it gets easier. you won’t regret a minute invested. you will be changed. keep trying. And how exciting to discover: they were right.
4. Both require lots of practice alone, before you are comfortable doing it with others.
I don’t usually like running with other people, because I get performance anxiety. Will I be slower than they are, hold them back? Will they inwardly laugh at my form, and recognize what an amateur I am? What if I don’t feel it, and take a walk break? I don’t always enjoy praying out loud in a group of people, for the same reasons. What if I don’t feel it? Are they inwardly laughing at my form? What if my words stumble and they recognize what am amateur I am?
When I was in San Francisco I ran with the group (more accurately, I ran with another Mom in the group, and the young, strong high schoolers from the track team? they ran circles around us two.) and it was one of the “stresses” before I left–how I would be giving up my alone time, running. Yes, each run started with a flurry of butterflies in my stomach and the usual insecure thoughts about how my legs looked in spandex–but then? Once I got going, my body fell into the familiar habit formed by miles of practice and the legs churned and the arms pumped and my body said “oh yeah. running. we like this.” And the run became special, because I was now sharing the formerly solitary experience with another kindred heart who was invested and involved, with me.
Prayer has been the same way. When I am thrust into a situation where suddenly I need to pray aloud, with others? I feel the momentary butterflies and insecurities too, but, if I am what I call “good-and-prayed-up” (those dry times spiritually without much prayer? it makes praying in a group feel like a lie, and my words will just stick in my throat!) yet if I am practiced, then my spirit relaxes and my heart settles into “oh yeah. talking. with God. we like this.” And the prayer becomes special, because I am sharing the experience with kindred hearts, who are invested and involved, with me.
5. Both of them break something inside of me.
I have become aware of a strange phenomena. After about five miles of straight running, I start to quietly cry. More than eight miles and I will collapse into a heaping pile of sobs once I am home, in the shower. I don’t know why. The first time it happened, I thought it was just the song on the iPod. The second time, I blamed those lovely female hormones.
(I was telling a friend about this curiousity, and she suggested maybe it was merely my poor body, begging me to stop this madness! ha!)
I don’t know, but I don’t fight it anymore. I let the tears roll unhindered down my cheeks and I just keep running. I have forced myself to stop analyzing it, or trying to push the tears down, out of silly fear of what the neighbors think because one day I realized: it always happens when I run over an hour or so, and this is exactly what occurs when I pray for that long. This same, deep inner place gets touched. I get up from prayer with wet cheeks, not noticing when those tears started. (I only know that the God who “holds all our tears in a bottle” must have a big jug up there, with my name on it!) Why does it happen when I run? I don’t know, or care. There are painful things which I was never able to openly cry for, and probably should have. Maybe now is the time? Whatever it is, I humbly accept it as a gift. The proof that it is mercy (and not just Brenda-being-emotional-and-or-crazy!) is in the lasting effect, after. How it is cathartic. and I feel cleansed. and my spirit grows much, much stronger.
It is just running. I get that. There is nothing magical about it, at all, I know. But I cannot help but think of Naaman-doubting. dying. desperate. Him, all covered in white leprous sores and dunking down over and over in foreign muddy river water, just in case it might possibly work…
When you ask God to heal the hurting, broken places inside you?
You don’t get to quibble with Him on the HOW.
and my being vulnerable and open, and telling the whole Internet? It is just my way of testifying to the goodness of God. He cleanses, He heals, and I AM GRATEFUL.