The Obsession: Revisited

9:24 PM

The only thing I like about running is not running. I like the snappy-colored sneakers on sale for $50. I like pulling my hair up in a ponytail and hearing the gravel crunch beneath my feet as I jog out in Nike shorts and running shirt.

The second the first stitch tears through my side, the first ache creeps into my ankles, the first breath daggers through my lungs -- I quit. Curl up on the side of the road. (Quite literally, actually.)

I know running does great things for muscles and heart. I get that. But in the moment, when my body starts panicking from the Unknown Entity Known As EXERCISE, nothing but the pain occurs to me. I feel like a failure clawing my way back to my room, dragging my sneakers through the gravel that five minutes before sounded so inspiring. Nothing convinces me to hit the asphalt again until insanity compels me to...a couple years later.

Life feels like this. I checked my schedule this week and flipped out -- presentations, oral exams, papers, research, performances, choir concerts. Mountain, fall on me. Those days when sleep abandons me except during Spanish class also feel like trying to run through a stitch in my side. Those days when God seems far away. Those days when everyone's mad at you -- including yourself. Those days when abstract doubts take on frightening reality.

It doesn't even have to be life-threatening. I remember throwing internal hissy fits over consumer math and thesis sentences for Smith papers. Boring waits in line do the same thing. Standing in the risers while Professor H works with the sopranos again. Getting stuck with the world's most talkative tablemate. Anything slow, dull, uninteresting, frustrating or hard gets under my skin and wears down the legs struggling to keep a rhythm in life.

A friend took on the impossible task of trying to get me run every day. The poor, poor fellow. Surprisingly, the first night I was more than a conqueror. I made it around the mile-long block in fifteen minutes, collapsed on the couch and gasped out my last breaths. Success!

Such is life, occasionally. Just like my once-in-three-years run, I decide to get off the spiritual couch and press on around the block no matter how much my heart burns and my soul aches. I don't care if it kills me. I don't care how long it takes. I'm running for the prize. That's the spiritual high.

The next day of running proved...well, not as successful. It seemed harder, longer. I thought I should be going faster. My knees hurt sooner. Since I'd gone around the block before, I knew exactly how long my dorm was -- far, far away from where I pitifully plugged on.

"I can't, " I gasped, hands falling to knees, hacking dramatically. "Everything hurts. I can't do this."

"Nope," my friend told me. "Keep moving. Go slower. Keep moving. Heel, toe, heel, toe. Whatever you do, don't stop."

But the pain! THE PAIN. I stopped cold. I never regained my momentum.

And isn't that what we so often do in our Christian walk? "I don't want to read my Bible. Prayer's boring. I'm busy. I'll do things later. It's too scary to share the Gospel. I hate loving people who are hard to love. Why does God keep bringing me around the block, the same issue, over and over and over again with no winnings? When will the pain stop?" And then I stop. I stop cold, broken and battered and not even willing to put another foot forward. I lose the momentum and complain how hopelessly unspiritual I am -- I'll never be consistent -- I'm so unfaithful -- this whole Christian thing is pointless.

Why can't we press forward?

Another runner told me about that moment in the race when everything burns -- that moment where you decide whether to crash to a halt or to win the race. If you choose to win, if you choose to go on, to fly past the finish line, you get this burst of adrenaline -- a second wind.

So why can't we press forward?

We don't run the race of life in our own strength, after all. We never did. And sometimes, life brings us to our bruised knees. The key isn't flying through the air, soaring with all the fantastic strength of some fantastical immortal Christian creature. The key is moving -- no matter what. Going forward. Pressing on. Grinding our teeth, letting the pain register and choosing to chase after the prize.

We know we're already winners, after all. Why give up the race halfway in? We live. We survive. We conquer.


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  1. mmm yes, been contemplating this EXACT thing lately.

    (and gosh, I sooo relate to you on the running thing. my best friend LOVES to run and her attempt at getting me to do so always ends in death. :P)


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