On Dec. 4 I will run in the White Rock Marathon in Dallas. Once a week, I will provide my observations on the connection between the spiritual life and training to run a marathon. Please visit my White Rock fundraising page to honor my daughter and contribute to a great cause.
Yesterday, I completed a 14 mile training run. This was the longest run that I have completed. I completed it without a whole lot of trouble, pain, or suffering. It seemed to be a natural progression of my previous training.
One quick search on the web for “marathon training” will give you hundreds and hundreds of links to training programs. There may be more training programs than there are marathons to run. Doing this search, it becomes obvious that training is an essential part of completing and excelling in a marathon. No one tries to complete a marathon without training first. The process is training not trying.
This should be the same principle in our spiritual life – training not trying. Have you ever tried to be a better person? Have you tried to be more loving or more compassionate, or more giving? Whenever I am left to my trying I realize that my trying has a short shelf life. Gritting my teeth and straining to be a better person never works over the long haul. Just as gritting my teeth and straining to run 14 miles without the proper training would have left me wasted at about mile 4, straining to be more Christlike without the proper training will leave me guilt ridden and down on myself.
James Bryan Smith, in his book The Good and Beautiful God, details a spiritual growth pyramid that places the narratives of Jesus at the top point, participating in community at the right point, and soul-training exercises at the left point, with the Holy Spirit in the middle. Smith points out that all of these elements must work together to create a transformed person. Many Christians just focus on right thinking and community and leave off the training aspect. This alone will not create a Christlike person. Others focus on only the Holy Spirit and think that the rest will take care of itself. Spiritual exercises puts your thinking into practice and makes your time in community more meaningful.
Training is essential to completing a marathon and essential to growing spiritually. We do not try harder to be like Christ we train intentionally in the context of right thinking and a loving Christian community.