Running The Race: To The Finish

On Dec. 4 I ran in the White Rock Marathon in Dallas. Over the last several weeks, I have provided 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.

The marathon is done and I finished it in a little over five hours. My dad asked me if it was the hardest thing that I have ever done? As I was laying in the passenger seat and loopy from the run and the pain that I was experiencing, I couldn’t think of anything else that was harder. Now, with a few days to reflect, I still can’t think of anything harder but I can think of some important lessons that I learned. These are lessons that are important not just for running a marathon but also making it through any difficult moment in your life.

Lesson #1 – You need help – I would say that about 60 percent of the runners had someone to run with or at least had a someone they knew at the start with them. These people were able to smile and joke and distract each other with mindless conversation. I had trained alone and intended to race alone until I heard about the Clif Pace Team. My dad had encouraged me to find people to run with because he knew that it would make it easier. I had heard good things about the Pace Team so I planned on finding the 5 hour pace team at the start. I was able to meet one of the other runners on the Pace group and just having someone to chat with on occasion during the race was a big help. But I really didn’t learn this lesson until around mile 18. At this point, I started to have cramps in my lower thigh. I didn’t expect this kind of set back with still so much farther to go and I was beginning to stress out. I ran up to my new Pace group friend, who had run in some marathons before. I asked him if he had any advice for leg cramps. A lady who was running with us, heard my comment and was nice enough to give me some of her electrolyte pills. I don’t know if they helped but at a time when everyone was just trying to survive, her service to me was beyond generous.

Don’t expect your spiritual life to make it through difficult times without help from others. No matter how strong you are, there are some things that only other people can bring to you.

Lesson #2  – Endurance Brings Clarity – You would think that running gives one a lot of time to pray and meditate on God. Maybe for some people but just as when I am sitting still, my mind rarely stays focus enough to finish a prayer. I have been on many a run when I have tried to make it through the Lord’s Prayer and lose my train of thought and never finish it. That was not the case at about  mile 21. I was so wasted from the exertion and the pain that I probably said the most cohesive and direct version of the Lord’s Prayer I have ever uttered. Other prayers that I voiced over and over were “Jesus Christ, son of God, have mercy on me, a sinner,” and “I am one in whom Christ dwells.” I needed that last one to tap in to some strength and courage that I didn’t think I had.

Lesson #3 – Trust – Along this journey to becoming a marathon finisher, I had recognized God’s role in bringing me along. I had prayed for good health so as not to miss a workout and that was answered. I had seen validation of my quest in people who I met and things that I had heard other’s say. I had received a great pouring out of abundance from people wanting to donate to Scottish Rite in honor of our daughter. I had received unexpected notoriety from a newspaper article that included me in a story about first time runners. God was making these things happen for a reason and I was becoming more and more sure of it as the weeks went by. But then a collection of circumstances began to surface that were very unwelcome.

First, Thursday night, I started to come down with a head cold. My nose was getting very congested and the good health that I had experienced throughout my training was fading. Second, the weather forecast for Sunday was getting bleaker and bleaker by the day. Early in the week it looked like a high in the upper Forties with a 40% chance of rain but by Saturday, the chance of rain had moved to 100% with a high barely reaching 43.  I had only run in rain once in all of my training and that was not when it was 40 degrees. Running a marathon was not something that I had ever done before and then here were these two situations which were a part of my worst case scenario. I reached the point where worrying and fretting wasn’t going to be very productive.

It is in situations like this where God always comes in and reminds me that he can be trusted, that he is who he says he is, and that my only choice is to lean on him. I couldn’t do anything about the weather and how my body was going to hold up under the strain of the marathon was a complete uncertainty. I had to trust God that he had brought me to this point for a reason and that he wasn’t going to leave me alone. The race became less about me and more about God’s work through me. Which is the way it should be. The race taught me to find the place where I should have been all along – in ruthless trust of my savior Jesus Christ.

Running the Race: Running For Joy

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.

This week is race week. There is no cramming for the marathon. Whatever I have accomplished in my training to this point will have to suffice. In this space, I have talked quite a bit about what I have done in my training and it is obvious that I will be the one who will complete the race (or not). But I started this entire quest in honor of my daughter, Joy, and the great work of Texas Scottish Rite Hospital For Children. I have to restrain myself from making this all about me because Joy is my inspiration.

Joy, now three, was born with a Cleft Lip and Palate. Her first surgery on her lip occurred when she was three months old and her palate was worked on when she was eight months old. After her palate surgery, she was in too much pain to eat and stayed that way for an excruciatingly long four to five days. At four months, she was placed in the hospital because of pneumonia and for several weeks afterwards, we had to feed her through a tube to avoid milk entering her lungs.

When she was a year old, we had her examined at Scottish Rite for possible curvature of the spine. Sure enough, she had infantile scoliosis and we started treating her and will continue, no doubt, throughout her childhood. For more than four months, she was placed in a cast that went from her hips to her shoulders. Now, she wears a brace that can come on and off but there is no sign of her getting out of the brace anytime soon. I haven’t even mentioned the eye surgery she had or the hernia surgery or the two additional palate surgeries.

I call her a professional patient because she knows her way around a doctor’s office and lets most everything just run its course without too much of a fuss or problem. When she was two, she got a flu shot and didn’t even cry. She is tough, smart, cute, and funny. She lives up to her name and has captured the heart of many who have been around her. I am running for Joy. She is my inspiration. I figure that my five hours of running is the least I can do to honor her, the rest of my family, and other kids that need medical care.

So, if I finish the marathon, congratulate me for a job well done but don’t forget the little girl who has already made it through the equivalent of about ten marathons’ worth of medical procedures and surgeries. Joy deserves the attention and pats on the back much more than I do.

Update: Joy and I were featured in the Life section of the Dallas Morning News yesterday. They did a story about first time White Rock runners. The story even mentioned the blog. If you have an online subscription, you can read it here.

Running The Race: Suffering Laboratory

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.

Training for any serious athletic endeavor is like entering into a laboratory for suffering. Each day is another opportunity to test physical suffering and determine what I am able to manage and overcome, as well as finding my suffering limitations. Some days, suffering is a welcomed ingredient to the training, met with respect and a healthy acknowledgement while other days, suffering seems the most important thing in the world to avoid. But any serious runner will tell you that you cannot avoid suffering and still reach your goals. You don’t complete a marathon on the back of an avoidance of suffering. You have to meet suffering face to face if you want to make progress in your training.

My marathon training has taught me about embracing suffering and difficulty. It has become a daily challenge to find the one moment when I tell myself I can do one more squat or one more sprint interval or tackle this hill one more time. And what do I discover through this suffering? Maybe nothing in the moment but the things I regularly do in today’s training, I thought were impossible two weeks ago. Suffering is necessary to move to the next stage in my training.

The biggest myth among Christians is that their faith will remove emotional and physical suffering from their life.  But this is counter to what Jesus said. He said that in this world you will have trouble (John 16:33) and that whoever wants to follow him must take up their cross (Mark 8:34) and those who want to be first must be last (Matt. 20: 16). Modern western Christians seem to want to try to avoid suffering at all costs but suffering is apparently an important aspect of your spiritual growth. Peter includes perseverance in his great list of add-ons to the faith (2 Peter 1:6). Growth and progress in the Christian life benefits from mountain top experiences and moments of spiritual highs but it excels when it has to work through suffering and endure through an experience where God’s presence isn’t just welcomed but a necessity.

As hard as the pain you are experiencing in your life may be, God is using that experience to refine you and mold you into the person he intends for you to be. We have to work through the pain just like a marathoner has to work through the discomfort and strain of training. There are rewards at the end of  both of these journeys. You just have to endure.

Running the Race: Training Not Trying

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.

Rostock-Marathon bei Schmarl, Rostock

Image via Wikipediaspiritual 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.

Run The Race: Slow Burn

Fun runners taking part in the 2006 Bristol Ha...

Image via Wikipedia

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.

The biggest mistake a beginner in any new venture can make is starting too hard and too fast. In our zeal for getting started and our grand imaginations about what we are able to handle, so many of us start a new thing way over our head. We get up at 5 a.m. to workout even though we haven’t gotten up that early in 12 years; we start a blog even though we barely have the time to respond to emails; we read three chapters of our Bible when one would have been just fine. What marathon training has taught me is the idea of slow progress.

I know one lady at my work that has completed a marathon who, when she began running, set her goal to simply run to the next light post. How do you go from running as far as the next light post to running 26.2 miles? Slow progress. I didn’t start my training by running a 10K, instead I started running for 20 minutes and some of that was walking as I focused on maintaining a certain heart rate. Most training programs call for building miles upon mile until you are able to run 15-20 miles. But you do not get there unless you first can run that first mile.

So many Christians need to take to their spiritual practices like they would a marathon training program. Maybe their “light post” strategy should be to memorize one verse once a week or read five verses every other day or pray intently for one minute. Once you complete this small effort, you add on one thing that is doable and then after you do this, you change up the plan to keep it interesting. Savor your slow growth in Christ. It took the disciples three years to understand who Jesus was and how they could serve like him. Jesus was patient with them, he will be patient with you. Start small and grow. It is the best way to becoming who you want to become.

Running The Race: When I Became A Runner

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.

Wednesday morning I became a runner. Sure, I have been training for a marathon for almost two months but it wasn’t until Wednesday that I became a runner. All signs pointed to me skipping a run that morning. I had stayed up too late watching a recorded playoff baseball game and my early morning workout schedule meant that sleep was going to be short. Then, as my alarm went off, the first thing I hear is the steady stream of rain drops on my roof. I am tired, it is raining. I tell myself that I don’t have to get out there today. But I remember something I had read the day before from Martin Dugard:

 Runners run. If you’re having one of those days where you want to rationalize not taking that first step out the door, remind yourself that this commitment renews itself each and every day. Then lace up your shoes and get out there.

So I took Dugard’s advice and laced up my shoes and put on a hat, to keep the rain out of my face, and ran around three miles. First, the rain was barely noticeable but then it began to pour but it didn’t bother me much because I knew that I had crossed a threshold and had become more than a guy in training but someone much more interesting, a runner.

To me, the spiritual application to the above discovery is pretty obvious. Through my daily commitment to God, even when life brings storms, I become a Christian in the truest sense of the word. But it takes a renewing commitment and realization that seeking first the kingdom is not a drudgery or a hassle but the absolute best thing that I could do for my life. Just as skipping out on a run would have been short changing myself, avoiding my responsibilities and dedication to God and his kingdom can keep me from fulfilling God’s abundant purposes for my life.

Running The Race: Christian Life Tracker

56/365 morning run

Image by kharied via Flickr

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.

I have a sensor in my running shoe that can track how many miles I have run, at what pace I am running, and how many minutes I have been running. I then can upload that information to a website so I can chart my progress. Another site that I have found, called Daily Mile, allows me to enter my results for each workout in a Twitter like fashion. In Daily Mile, others in my social network can see my results and comment on my progress while I can do the same for them.

The ability to track your status and broadcast it to others keeps you accountable and makes it easier to set goals and see how much you have improved. Why isn’t there something like this for spiritual activities? Why can’t I track my daily Bible reading and let others know how I am doing? Why can’t I list prayers and then check them off when they have been answered? There are many spiritual disciplines that could be tracked and monitored and shared.

The reason we don’t have Christian Life Trackers is because we are afraid that we will become legalistic. Legalism occurs when you attach righteousness to spiritual activities.  When I think that I have to complete certain spiritual tasks in order to receive favor from God or, in most cases, the church then I am being legalistic. How exactly is tracking my daily Bible reading being legalistic? I am simply finding a tool that will motivate me to continue reading and help me encourage others who are trying to do the same thing. Sure, there may be a level of competition and one up-manship involved but the rewards to making our spiritual lives more quantified far outweigh the temptation for pride and power.

I enjoy watching my progress through my marathon training and keeping up with how others are doing as well. I feel a kinship to friends, and some strangers, who are putting in good work towards their goals and I enjoy celebrating when they achieve something extraordinary. Doesn’t this sound like something we should be doing as fellow believers? Let’s find a good way to track and connect our spiritual journey.

Running the Race: Feeling God’s Pleasure

Ian Charleson (foreground) and Ben Cross (left...

Image via Wikipedia

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.

St. Irenaeus once said that, “The glory of God is a human being fully alive.” When I am running, I can’t help but think about this quote. Though there are times during training when I feel like I am dying there are also times when I feel more alive than ever. The breeze is blowing, my heart is racing, my legs keep churning, and my mind is alert to my surroundings. I am fully engaged in the moment and nothing is distracting my focus other than getting one foot to move in front of the other.

There is a famous line from Chariots of Fire where Eric Liddell says that when he runs he “feels God’s pleasure.” I can’t tell you that I have reached such spiritual heights in my life but the sense of aliveness that I get when running is getting me closer to feeling God’s pleasure.

When Jesus says that he has come to bring us life and life more abundantly, he is not just talking about eternal life. He is talking about an existence right now that is full of the light of the world. I want my life to be this abundant and full of light. When I run, I am learning more and more what this Christian life can look like.

Running The Race: It’s Not About The Shoes

020 - Medals

Image by steelbyte via Flickr

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.

As I prepare for a marathon, I struggle with my motivations. It is hard not to be self-absorbed when you are training for a marathon. I don’t like talking about myself, normally, but I find that I am constantly talking about running and the marathon with my wife and others. I keep asking myself, “Is this all about me?” “Am I making this sacrifice to draw attention to myself?” Sure, I make myself feel better by raising some money for a good charity and to draw attention to my daughter but I am the one doing the hours and hours of training and I am the one who will receive the participant’s shirt and the completion medal. So, is it all about me?

I don’t want it to be. In fact, I think this whole experience will change me for the better. And if you have been reading this blog long enough you know that I am all about growth and change. Today, I read about having an inward focus on God and living well and beautifully by placing myself under the reign of Jesus Christ. This is where I want my focus to be; not on myself and my accomplishments but on God. There is nothing wrong with achieving something as hard as a marathon but I would rather do it because of the power and strength given to me by God. I want it to be about Him and not me. I want to run with God through this race.

Pushing forty crisis? My need for control? Need for attention and praise? Display of manhood?

I don’t know what initially sparked my desire to run a marathon but I know now that I will not complete it because of my shoes or my training or my innate physical ability. I will complete it because God desires for me to complete it and he has something in store for me in the process.