Run No. 52 Distance: 4.53 miles (7.3 km) Time: 42’34”” (PB 38’ 28”)
An early Sunday morning run in the sunshine today. Very pleasant.
As I approached the half-way point an older gentleman dog walker stopped to clap me and smilingly shouted, “Go on! Go on!” as I ran past.
It was a boost and an encouragement. That someone who didn’t know me from Adam would make the effort to cheer me on my way.
Encouragement is such a simple yet powerful thing. It can be like pouring petrol on a fire.
A friend has recently completed the ‘Couch to 5 K” challenge (C25K). It is a training program designed to get people from a place of doing no exercise to being able to run 5 Km in 9 weeks.
My friend did some of the training runs with a beginners group, but some were done on your own. There is an app for your phone which tells you what to do, “We are now going to walk quickly for 2 minutes, try to keep time with the beat”, “We are now going to run for 2 minutes” etc.
The nicely voiced lady also gives you encouragement, “Keep going, you’re doing great!”
The only downside was that my friend said he found himself replying to her, “Yes, I know, I know!” Which disconcerted some of the passers-by!
But again encouragement was a help and an aid, even when you know it is not completely genuine.
The flip side to our capacity to be aided by encouragement, is that we can be also forcefully impacted by discouragement.
It is sadly all too obvious that many people’s whole lives are blighted by parents who constantly told them they were useless and worthless. It is a form of curse that was placed upon them and, unfortunately, many never manage to break that curse, so powerful are the effects of those negative words.
Perhaps the most encouraging word, one that brings life, is that spoken by St James, one of the leaders of the Early Church. It was a word of promise, comfort, and encouragement and was born out of his experience of seeing it proved true again, and again and again, as people opened their minds, lives, and hearts to the message of Jesus.
Draw near to God and He will draw near to you (James 4:8)
Run No. 51 Distance: 4.53 miles (7.3 km) Time: 43’33”” (PB 38’ 28”)
Well that’s the first 50 runs completed since I got back to running. Feels like an achievement and I hope it’s a psychological milestone.
In Scottish mountaineering circles there is an activity called ‘Munro Bagging’. It consists of climbing all of the mountains over 3,000 feet and is named after the man, Sir Hugh MUNRO, who compiled the first list about a hundred years ago. There are almost 300 of them and the most serious challenge is to climb them all in a single calendar year.
There is a phenomenon called ‘the first 50’; which describes the observation that most people who climb 50 Munros, go on to climb them all; it is a sort of psychological ‘point of no return’.
I am no psychologist, but I can imagine several reasons as to why this number might be significant:
- by this point a serious personal investment in the goal has been made,
- there will be a growing conviction that the task is achievable,
- there will be a growing sense of pride in accomplishment.
All the above might well serve to focus the mind, body and spirit and give drive and enthusiasm for the completion of the remainder of the task ahead.
I am caused to wonder is there an equivalent milestone for the spiritual life? Is there a point at which we are almost certain to end well, to continue the race, to stay the course?
I’m afraid that I think the answer is probably ‘No’.
I think there is an inherent fragility in the life of faith and at almost every moment there is the possibility of being knocked off course, tripped up, losing our way.
C.S. Lewis was shocked by the realisation that even in a person’s own home they are not safe from spiritual lapses, he reflected that this reality imposes upon the Christian disciple a constant state of self-awareness and concentration;
There is nowhere this side of heaven where we may lay the reins on the horse’s neck, it will never be lawful simply to be ‘ourselves’, until ‘ourselves’ have become sons of God.
Research on spiritual leaders, both historical and contemporary, reveals the sobering fact that only a third of those who start well with Christ, finish well with Christ.
Almost anything can trip a person up, the monastic disciplines regarding money, sex and power still describe the way people fail and fall.
I worked out that in my average run I take about 6,500 steps. Each of those is a potential for tripping and falling.
As we run through life, similarly opportunities abound for mishap.
All of which should make the spiritual person humble, drive them to their knees, and draw them to the cross, the one place in the universe where strength can be sought and found in time of trouble, failure can be confessed and forgiven, the mutual support and encouragement of fellow pilgrims shared.
The first 50 is a good beginning, but we in the spiritual life we don’t celebrate beginnings, we celebrate completions.
 C.S. Lewis, God in the Dock, Part iii, The sermon and the Lunch, paras 5-9, 1945
 J. Robert CLINTON & Paul D. STANLEY, Connecting, Colarado: Navpress, 1992, pp213ff,
Distance: 4.53 miles Time: 41’47”” (PB 38’ 28”)
Distance: 4.53 miles Time 42’ 30”
Distance: 4.53 miles Time 42’ 30”
It was as a teenager that I first started running. At school I discovered, much to my surprise, that I was quite good at long distance running, in the top 5 of my class of 30.
I was tall and skinny, with long legs, and was probably at that time of life when you enjoy the highest energy levels that you will ever experience in your lifetime.
I just ran for fun. I exalted in it. I don’t ever remember having to force myself outside, even in awful weather (and this was in Scotland!). I just loved running and it was glorious.
I don’t know when it stopped being an enjoyment and became more of an endurance, probably when I hit my late 30s.
I started having to coerce myself into going out, to rationalize why running was a good thing to do, to convince myself of the health benefits, the psychological benefits, and even the spiritual benefits of running.
Images like the one above typify the process. Of course it’s not a completely truthful picture. Genes also play a part, and the luck of the draw regarding where you happen to be born, the avoidance of accidents and disease etc. But at least embracing regular exercise puts you on the side of the angels.
I now find I enjoy about the first third of my runs. After that it just feels like hard work; an endurance.
Certainly, there is the endorphin kick when you finish and the positive sense of achievement that although more than 50 summers have passed, you are still active, still running, still fitter than many.
But on the whole the enjoyment is somewhat diminished and it feels more like an endurance.
I think the same principles apply to spiritual health and growth.
There is in my tradition a set of activities that have been time proven over the millennia to lead to spiritual health and growth, they are listed as disciplines of abstinence and disciplines of engagement.
Disciples of Abstinence –
Solitude, Silence, Fasting, Frugality, Chastity, Secrecy, Sacrifice
Disciplines of Engagement –
Charity, Study, Worship, Celebration, Service, Prayer, Fellowship, Confession, Submission
Like running, the practice of these disciplines is sometimes an enjoyment. For example it can sometimes feel great to give to a cause where you know your money will make a massive difference in someone’s life. Sometimes prayer feels like a direct connection to God and you come away feeling energised and with clarity about what you should do in your life.
But there will also be times, when doing what you know will lead to your spiritual health and growth, is the last thing you feel like doing.
It is usually in these moments, when you least feel like doing the right thing, that you most need to. And if you do, it becomes a real sacrifice, offered to God, and of eternal value and significance.
For you have chosen the spiritual over the physical, you have decided to place your treasure ‘in heaven’ and not on earth.
You have put God’s will before your own, you are in a place to change the destiny of universe, one act at a time.
As shown in the image above, our lives are the accumulation of our choices – choices to prioritise the spiritual or the physical, choices to do what’s right, or what feels best.
Sometimes good choices are enjoyable, sometimes they must be endured. But they are always the right thing to do.