Run no. 95 –Difficult but Doable

Difficult

Distance: 4.53 miles (7.3 km) Time: 42’ 47” (PB 38’ 38”)

As I started off I felt that I was going at a good pace (for me!). I decided to try and maintain that pace throughout the run.

It was very painful as I’m just getting back to regular running after a break – although that seems to be my most common state!

I’m not usually someone who looks at split times, but for some reason I glanced at my watch at the half-way point and was amazed to see that it read 19’ 41”; which is actually pretty close to my personal best time.

Which I guess tells you everything you need to know about me as a runner; as I get fitter I don’t go any faster, I just slow down less.

Real runners would want to talk about speed training, but at my age I am really so not interested in speed!

I just want to maintain a reasonable level of fitness and control my weight; both of which have suffered in recent months.

It has been a complicated time in my life circumstances, as a job comes to an end, and as yet there is nothing else in sight. I have been applying for posts that I thought were a good fit for me, only to be rejected every time; which even though you rationalise it, is still a psychological blow. And when you don’t feel good about yourself that tends to express itself in ways that aren’t helpful and feedback back into the negativity.

It was amazing to me that unfit, carrying a few kilos too many I was still able to run at my fastest ever pace – even though I fell off quite badly towards the end.

I fell off quite badly towards the end

I discovered that it is still doable, just difficult; just really painful and unpleasant.

Which was my spiritual lesson of the day. We are told in the Bible that;

 without faith it is impossible to please God Hebrews 11:6

Which, if ever you needed a starter for ten on whether the Christian life is easy or hard, you have your answer.

Someone once said;

Faith is like a muscle, it only gets stronger when exercised.

Others have said;

Faith is spelt R.I.S.K.

And in some senses I believe both of these to be true. However I think the key component of faith is learning to live with not understanding. Learning to embrace the mystery of God, who is often, opaque, obscure, confusing.

the key component of faith

is learning to live with not understanding.

Learning to embrace the mystery of God,

who is often, opaque,

obscure,

confusing.

It is only faith that can hold on when nothing makes sense. If you want to see the awfulness of that experience played out in a human life you have only to read the story of Jonah or Job.[1]

But although their faith was rocked, fissured, stretched to breaking point, it did not fail. God would not allow it to.

All that God asks us to face is difficult but doable.

 

[1] You can get an in-depth look at Jonah through my book Jonah the Epistle of Wild Grace – available free here http://www.lulu.com/spotlight/stephenjohnmarch

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Run no. 78 – Shall I call the ambulance now?

health_heart

Distance: 4.53 miles (7.3 km) Time: 42’ 54” (PB 38’ 38”)

The cheek of some people!

As I was running around Watermeads Country Park on my usual run; in reply to my cheery, “Good afternoon. God bless you!” some cheeky beggar shouted out to me,

“Shall I call the ambulance now?”

Which made me realise that I do not have the running equivalent of a ‘poker face’.

Some people have a running gait that looks effortless – even when they’re pushing hard.

Some have a beatific facial expression that belies all effort.

Not so me!

It is very obvious that every ounce of pain and effort is writ large on my face and shown in my belaboured running gait.

I guess this is true in the spiritual life too.

For some people the spiritual life looks easy. They exemplify certain verses in the Bible that seem to indicate this is how things should be;

“Come to me, all you who are weary and burdened,

and I will give you rest.

Take my yoke upon you and learn from me,

for I am gentle and humble in heart,

and you will find rest for your souls.

For my yoke is easy and my burden is light.”[1]

For others the spiritual life doesn’t look like that at all. Rather it is more like some other scriptural verses. I think of St Paul’s use of metaphors from the boxing ring and the gym;

Do you not know that in a race all the runners run, but only one gets the prize?

Run in such a way as to get the prize.

Everyone who competes in the games goes into strict training.

They do it to get a crown that will not last, but we do it to get a crown that will last forever.

Therefore I do not run like someone running aimlessly;

I do not fight like a boxer beating the air.

No, I strike a blow to my body and make it my slave so that after I have preached to others, I myself will not be disqualified for the prize.[2]

So which of these is the truth about the spiritual life?

I guess the classic answer is both/and.

There are times when things go easy, God seems close, blessings are abundant and we can very well agree with Brother Lawrence that;

Our business is simply to love and be happy in God.[3]

At other times God will seem remote, blessings none existant, the demands of the spiritual life burdensome, and the rewards absent.

It is at times like these that the mental toughness developed by running can help.

We run even when it isn’t fun, because we know it is good.

Likewise we love and centre our lives on God, regardless of the payoff. It is simply the right way to ‘be’. And our perspective is the long game; not the close horizon of our earthly existence, but the far horizon of an eternity with God enjoying Him and all the good He has planned for us.

From the perspective of eternity our pains will be our pride;

they will be the inerasable evidence of our love for, and commitment to, God.

 

[1] Matthew 11 :28-30 NIV

[2] 1 Corinthian 9:24-27 NIV

[3] The Practice of the presence of God, 2nd conversation.


Run no. 51 – The First 50

 

Munros

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.[1]

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.[2]

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.

 

[1] C.S. Lewis, God in the Dock, Part iii, The sermon and the Lunch, paras 5-9, 1945

[2] J. Robert CLINTON & Paul D. STANLEY, Connecting, Colarado: Navpress, 1992, pp213ff,