Distance: 4.53 miles (7.3 km) Time: unrecorded (PB 38’ 38”)
Today was my first run for 4 months.
I knew it was going to be hard and to hurt.
I didn’t time myself, as the objective was to see if I could still run 4.53 miles without stopping – I could, but only with great difficulty.
In my running loop I passed a lady walking her dog and gave my usual greeting “Good morning, God bless”. As I passed her again on the return part she shouted out an encouragement, “You’re nearly there!”
I replied “This is my first run for 4 months; stupid idea!”
She shouted back, “You won’t think that later!”
Which made me think.
Of course she was right.
You finish your run and the endorphin kick hits you – your body’s self-reward mechanism for your having done exercise.
You also experience the warm glow of satisfaction that you can still run, when many of your friends of the same age can’t.
You get the sense of righteousness that in that doing exercise you are protecting your body against 30 different types of cancer.
That helped me – lungs afire, heavy-legged, and uncomfortably hot. That reminder of the good that was to come got me through the final third of my run.
This reminded me that the spiritual ‘race’ is no different.
St Paul described his approach in the following way:
Forgetting what is behind and straining toward what is ahead, I press on toward the goal to win the prize of God’s heavenly calling in Christ Jesus. (Philippians 3:13-14)
None of the things which foster our spiritual life – prayer, engagement with the Bible, attendance at a worshipping community, serving others and sharing with them, the de-centring of my own wants and needs, giving God control of my life – are easy. They never become easy. They are always costly and challenging and go against our nature.
The only reason that we will embrace them is the hope of where they lead, to goal to which they can take us.
What s that goal? Well God is His own reward – He has nothing better to offer us than Himself. The more we embrace the disciplines of the spiritual life, the more God will reveal Himself to us and in us.
Recently I have had a powerful reminder of the latter.
A man I know has recently become a monk. He still lives in the same village, he still carries out a full-time job, but he lives according to the monastic rule of life and he lives to serve God and his community.
He rises at 3:45 to spend 3 hours in prayer and meditation. He stops every three hours during the working day to pray the monastic offices.
The change I have seen in him over the past year has been dramatic. There is a presence in him, a peace, and an authority. Just to be with him is to experience God.
Obviously we are not all called to be monks, but we are all called to be in relationship with God, and we are all capable of it.
All it takes is discipline.
All that will sustain it as we experience the pain and challenge is the knowledge of where this leads us – to a deeper encounter with that being who is all good, all wise, all love, all power, all majesty.
I think that this should motivate me more.
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.