Run no. 86 – Habit eats willpower for breakfast

Willpower

 

Distance: 4.53 miles (7.3 km) Time: 41’ 14” (PB 38’ 38”)

 

The hardest thing about running for me, is getting out there.

Once I’ve got into my running gear and got out the door I’m fine.

But making that happen regularly is a challenge.

Today was a case in point. It was a hot day and I just wasn’t in the mood.

What got me out there was that a few weeks ago I decided that I needed to run more regularly and that the only thing that was going to make that happen was habit.

So I started the habit of running every second day. Over the past few weeks that habit has got ingrained and it really helps.

Today, knowing that tomorrow it will be very difficult to get a run in, as I’m away all day, the idea of missing today felt like something I just couldn’t do.

In John ORTBERG’s great book ‘Soul Keeping’ he makes the statement that;

‘habit eats willpower for breakfast.’

A good habit, say giving 10% of your income to good causes each month, will keep you giving even when you don’t feel like it.

A bad habit, reacting aggressively to criticism, will eventually get you to the point when nobody can help you with your weaknesses, your worst attributes will be irrevocably fixed.

Which is why being lost or saved, is not so much a destination, as a diagnosis of who you are becoming.

To quote ORTBERG again,

This is what it means to lose your soul. It is not a cosmic threat. It is a clinical diagnosis.

It is not “I could end up there.”

It is “I could become that.”

If you are a lost soul your surroundings don’t matter – I mean this literally – one damn bit.

When it comes to our souls, as with everything else, habit eats willpower for breakfast.

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Run no. 79, 80, 81 – It’s the Cost

Cost

 

Distance: 4.53 miles (7.3 km) Time: 42’ 33” (PB 38’ 38”)

Distance: 4.53 miles (7.3 km) Time: 42’ 07” (PB 38’ 38”)

Distance: 4.53 miles (7.3 km) Time: 42’ 30” (PB 38’ 38”)

 

I was out running at 7:15 this morning as it is going to be hot today. But even at that time the temperature was around 23°C.

It was a hard run, my legs felt heavy and I was more tempted to stop and walk that in any run for a while.

I felt slow and when I finished my time was not brilliant.

A good time makes me feel better about having run, so a poor time is demoralising to me.

As the more negative emotions started to stir I reminded myself that the value of something is often expressed more in what it costs than what it is. I was taught this lesson many years ago.

At the time my wife and I were a young married couple with our first child. We were active members in a church who had just called a new minister. This is always a very exciting time in a church’s life as we wait to see what vision the new person has for the future direction of the church.

The church leaders had decided to have a church weekend where the new minister could share his thoughts and vision with us.

We quickly agreed to go. Then one of the church leaders rang us to say that more families had booked up than they expected and so they needed someone to look after the children while the main meetings were going on; and would we do that.

My heart sank. We wanted to be part of the exciting meetings with the new minister, not looking after other peoples’ children. But because we had been brought up to believe that if someone asks you to do something for God and you haven’t got a good reason not to, you should do it, we said yes.

So while the meetings were on we found ourselves in a port-a-kabin with about 8 children. We found that space was shared with the kitchens, so while we were trying to do stuff with the children the cook was banging around with pots and mixing machines making meals for everybody. It was not ideal, but we tried to do our best. We had chosen some holiday club material to use and every time a leaders said ‘The J Team’, the children had to shout out ‘I wish I could be in it!’ And I guess we had fun and did a reasonable job of it.

About 4 weeks later we were in church one Sunday evening and the new minister said I’m going to invite someone up now and they are going to share what God has been doing in their life

Imagine our surprise when it was the cook from the weekend that came up the front. He said that he had been invited to go on the weekend and cook as he was unemployed and had a friend that went to our church. He wasn’t a Christian and had had a tough life struggling with alcohol and other stuff. He said that he never attended any of the meetings that weekend as he was always in the kitchen preparing food.

But there was a young couple who had shown such love to the children that he had listened in to what they were teaching them. He said that suddenly the message of Jesus and of God’s love and forgiveness made sense to him and he had decided to turn to God. He looked at my wife and I and said,

“I’ve just got one thing I want to say; the J Team, I wish I could be in it!”

By this time my wife and I were in tears, humbled, amazed, astounded.

That lesson taught me that God works in 360°, we never know what parts of our life, or which of our words and acts might be a vehicle for God’s grace.

It also made me play the ‘What If’ game.

What If we had declined the request to look after the children and perhaps someone had done it, someone who more interested in keeping the children busy, and less interested in helping them explore faith.

What If we had not been as loving towards the children because of our feelings of missing out on the important meetings, as it was our love for them that got the cook’s attention.

What If it was only the fact that we did something we didn’t really want to, as a sacrifice to God, that made it something that God chose to bless.

The value is in what something costs, not what it is.

 


Run no. 73 – Transformation

pound coin flaws

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

Second run out after a 4 month lay off.

My return to running was sparked by a few things – my conscience telling me I should be doing regular exercise; the unpleasant feeling of unfitness during heavy exertion; the fact that I stood on the bathroom scales and they indicated 92 kg.

I guess the latter was the final straw. My ideal weight would probably be around 84 kg, so I’m 10 % overweight – that’s a lot.

And so I begin the slow and painful process of self-transformation. I’m trying to eat better – less food, less often. I’m trying to avoid the late evening wine, crisps and sweets that are my nemesis. I’m also back to running.

The hope is that these together will make a gradual difference. But I’m under no illusions as to the difficulty and the time this will take.

I was thinking how that analogy fits very well with the process of spiritual transformation.

The human person is a paradox. On the one hand we are ‘created in the image of God’[1], that is to say there are aspects of God’s nature in us, we are capable of God-like love, kindness, self-sacrifice, mercy, justice, beauty etc. On the other hand we have to recognise that this image is flawed and broken.

all have sinned and fall short of the glory of God[2]

The recent debacle over the flawed pound coins is an apt illustration. The image of the queen is marred and broken. It is still recognisably her, but not what it should be.

The Christians life is the process of transformation of self into what we should always have been; our truest and best self, our God-like self; a self that is only actualised as the result of being in relationship with God. Only God can restore Godlikeness in us.

The first step in the process starts only when we recognise our estrangement from God. The Christian faith holds that God Himself, in the life, death, and resurrection of Jesus, has made it possible for us to be reconnected with God.

Jesus answered, ‘I am the way and the truth and the life. No one comes to the Father except through me.[3]

Once that divine-human relationship is re-established then God Himself in the person of the Holy Spirit comes to indwell us, and it is His energy working in us that enables the transformation of self.

We all show the Lord’s glory, and we are being changed to be like him. This change in us brings more and more glory. And it comes from the Lord, who is the Spirit.[4]

This is a long, slow, and costly process. It requires devotion and discipline – but it is possible.

We are what we are, but what we become is a choice.

[1] Genesis 1 :27

[2] Romans 3 :23

[3] John 14 :6

[4] 2 Corinthians 3 :18


Run no. 72 – You won’t think that later

endorphin high

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.

 

 

 

 


A 400 year old conversation

 

brotherlawrence

Run No. 70         Distance: 4.53 miles (7.3 km) Time: 44’14” (PB 38’ 38”)

As I ran today I was reflecting on what I have been studying recently.

It is a small booklet of 12 pages of notes that were taken of a series of four conversations between two Frenchmen between 3rd August 1666 and 25th November 1667.

The one man was a Catholic priest, the other was a lay brother who worked in the kitchens of a monastery.

One man sought the spiritual advice of the other.

Counter-intuitively it was the priest who sought spiritual guidance from the kitchen-worker.

After the death of the kitchen-worker, the notes of this conversation were quickly put into print, at first by the Protestant Huguenot community, then later by the Catholic press.

They have become known as a classic work of spirituality by both communities and are still immensely popular today.

The kitchen-worker was born Nicholas Herman in Lorraine, Eastern France in 1611. He had a basic education but was forced to go into the army at 18 as no other career prospects opened up.

He was very quickly wounded when Swedish forces raided a neighbouring village. His injuries left him lame and in chronic pain for the rest of his life.

He was unable to continue in the army and got employment as a footman – a domestic servant – to a rich man. His duties were waiting at table and receiving visitors. But unfortunately he was naturally clumsy and his lameness only made this worse. His employer described him as;

‘A big clumsy fellow who smashed everything.’[1]

Somewhere around this time he had an experience during which he noticed a tree in winter, stripped of its leaves. He reflected that in a short while it would have new leaves, then flowers, and then fruit. This so impressed him as an example of how God provides for us, that it became a spiritual turning point in his life.

He entered a monastery, taking the name Brother Lawrence of the Resurrection. He expected that his clumsiness and failings would be punished and that this would be something he could offer to God, but instead he found nothing but contentment. He would often say to God that he had duped him!

In the monastery his basic education meant he was only fit for menial work, so he was put in the kitchens, peeling vegetables and cooking meals. Cooking was something for which he had a natural aversion, but he decided to do it for the love of God and continued in it for the next 30 years of his life.

What makes his story so interesting was that he had the insight that his menial work could be just as pleasing to God and an act of spiritual worship as anything else; that he could do – and should do – everything that he did for the love of God.

‘He was happy if he could pick up a straw from the ground for the love of God, seeking Him alone, nothing else, not even His gifts.’[2]

His spirituality is full of self-knowledge, humanity and gentleness with himself and others;

“When I see that I am at fault I admit it and say: ‘That is just like me; I can do nothing right by myself’; when I do not fail, I acknowledge that it is God’s doing and give thanks to Him.”[3]

It is such a healthy and life-affirming spirituality. His simple method was to live his life in the presence of God, having a life-long communion and conversation with God.

‘That we ought to act very simply towards God, speaking frankly to Him, and asking His help in things as they occurred; in his experience, God never failed to give it.’ [4]

‘That with him the time of prayer was not different from any other; he had set times for it, which the Father Prior had appointed, but he neither wanted nor asked for them, for the most absorbing work did not divert him from God.’ [5]

His simplicity of life brought Brother Lawrence both peace and contentment;

 ‘That he gave thought neither to death nor to his sins, neither to Heaven nor to Hell, but only to the doing of small things for the love of God – small things because he as incapable of big ones. He need trouble no further, for whatever came after would be according to God’s will.’[6]

He came to find that his menial work actually brought him closer to God than the formal times of prayer;

‘That he was more united to God during his ordinary activities than in religious exercises, in which he was generally afflicted with spiritual dryness.’[7]

What makes his approach to the spiritual life so great is that it is attainable for everyone;

‘That neither skill nor knowledge is required to enable us to go to God, but just a heart determined to turn to Him only, to beat for Him only, and to love Him only.’[8]

‘That our sanctification did not depend upon doing certain works, but upon doing for God that which we ordinarily did for ourselves.’[9]

‘That we ought not to get tired of doing little things for the love of God, because He looks at the love rather than the work. And we need not be surprised at our frequent failures at first; the time will come when we shall make our acts naturally and with gladness.’[10]

This spiritual approach sets the goal of our lives;

‘…to become as good worshippers of God as we possibly can, as we hope to be His perfect worshippers for all eternity.’[11]

I reflected how complicated we often make the spiritual life, when it really can be so simple; not easy, but simple.

As I ran I found myself again giving thanks to God for Brother Lawrence and offering my run to God as worship and an act of love.

 

[1] Donald ATTWATER (translator), The Practice of the Presence of God, London: Burns & Oates, 1926 (1693), p1

[2] ibid. p3

[3] ibid. p7

[4] ibid p5

[5] ibid.

[6] ibid. p7

[7] ibid. p9

[8] ibid.

[9] ibid. p10

[10] ibid. p11

[11] ibid.


Run no. 69 – A six-thirty mile pace – really?

stopwatch

 

Run No. 69         Distance: 4.53 miles (7.3 km) Time: 43’41” (PB 38’ 38”)

A sunny but frosty and cold day today, so I was running with full hat and gloves.

As I was approaching the half-way point of my run a passing cyclist called out,

Your doing a six-thirty mile pace, brilliant!

My first reaction was “That’s not right!” It seemed inconceivable to me that only my second run in after a five month break I would be doing that kind of pace.

I am also well aware that cycle speedometers are notoriously inaccurate and depend on the wheel measurement that the user enters; they can also be affected by tyre pressure changes.

A six-thirty mile pace would have led to a split time of 14’ 42”. My actual split time was 20’ 21”! That’s quite a margin of error on his speedometer!

I started to muse about how this poor cyclist probably thought he was a lot faster than he really was. Which led to a spiritual reflection; that the standard against which we measure ourselves is vitally important.

Like me you have probably heard rather unpleasant people boast that they are all right as they have never murdered anyone.

Well if the measure of a successful human life is not to murder someone, then they are doing fine. But what if the measure with which our lives are evaluated by God is completely different? If so then they are living with a completely false sense of security.

We know from the Bible that God’s command for humankind is to

Be holy as I am holy.

What this means in concrete terms is spelled out in the 10 commandments –

have no other gods, have no idols, honour God’s name, keep one day a week as a day to focus on God, honour your parents, do not murder, do not steal, do not lie, do not commit adultery (elsewhere extrapolated to all sexual activity outside of marriage), do not envy what others have[1].

Jesus resumed all these positively into two commandments;

Love God with all your heart, soul and strength.

Love your neighbour as yourself[2].

Which reminds us that it is the love relationship that God wants – the commandments are just examples of ways in which our conduct can impair that relationship.

If that relationship is healthy then we will naturally shy away from things that we know displease God.

It is also a tall order, an impossible standard. Which is why the Christian religion is a religion founded upon grace – God’s unmerited favour.

We bring our broken, rather shabby lives before God and we say we are truly sorry for the times where we have missed the mark (the literal meaning of the word ‘sin’). We ask his forgiveness and we receive it – we are reset on the right path, the slate is wiped clean, we begin again.

But you can only access this grace, mercy and forgiveness if we know we need it; which is why the measure we use to assess our lives is vitally important.

Make sure your measure is true and reach for God’s grace when you fall short.

 

 

[1] Exodus 20 :1-17

[2] Matthew 22 :37-40


Run no. 68 – The Way Out is Through

 

running-in-puddles

Run No. 66         Distance: 4.53 miles (7.3 km) Time: 41’20” (PB 38’ 38”)

Run No. 67          Distance: 4.53 miles (7.3 km) Time: 43’39” (PB 38’ 38”)

Run No. 68         Distance: 4.53 miles (7.3 km) Time: 47’32” (PB 38’ 38”)

I’ve done that running-hiatus thing again. I haven’t been for a run for about 5 months. There are lots of reasons, but they are mostly to do with the cowardly avoidance of discomfort. But hey, I’m back and at it again.

You know, of course, that the first run after such a long break is going to be tough.

The first 20 minutes were fine but then the body started to feel the effort and complain.

I was expecting that, I was ready for that, I could handle that.

What I wasn’t expecting or ready for was that my usual route was flooded.

We have had wet weather for a few weeks now and the past 24 hours have been constant heavy rain. The already waterlogged ground has not been able to cope with this rain and the rivers are now bursting their banks.

As I began my loop of King Lear Lake in Watermeads Country Park I found myself running through sections of the path that were under water.

The first sections were short areas of flooding and the water was only a few centimetres deep, so that didn’t unduly concern me.

However as things progressed the sections of flooding lengthened to hundreds of metres and the water depth rose considerably.

The water was freezing cold, dirty and the depth of it forced me to high-step to avoid tripping. The extra effort required, by a body that was already suffering, was not inconsiderable!

Everything in me said stop; turn around; find another way; go home!

But I’m a runner.

Runners don’t do that.

So I did what runners do, I found a way to convince myself to carry on.

I told myself –

“I’m wet already.”

“This extra effort I’m being forced to do will pay dividends in fitness.”

“Don’t be a wimp!”

And so on…

And it worked. I made it all the way around. At times the water was just below my knees and I was forced to wade rather than run. But I never stopped.

I felt pretty heroic. The odd random dog-walker shouted their surprise at my bravery/stupidity! It felt pretty good.

I’m almost certain that I will be the only person to run around King Lear Lake today and I am good with that. It is a kind of victory.

Reflecting on this I was reminded that the greatest prisons that exist are the ones inside our own heads. When we are faced with an unexpected challenge – like unforeseen flooding – the greatest factor on whether or not we succeed is whether can imagine ourselves succeeding.

Without a positive mental attitude that can envisage success being possible, we will not even try to face the challenge; we are already defeated in our own heads.

In life most of our greatest challenges are the ones that we cannot foresee – unemployment, bereavement, relationship breakdown, serious illness or accidents.

It is in these moments that our mental approach is crucial. Can we see a way through? Can we imagine a life of joy and hope on the other side of this trauma?

It is here that a person of faith has a great advantage. We believe that God controls the course of our lives and that whatever we have to face, God has allowed it.

All the days planned for me were written in your book before I was one day old.[1]

If God has allowed it then he must know we can get through it and he must know that something good can come of it, as I don’t believe that God allows pointless suffering. Whether that god is something being transformed in us, or some benefit for others – sometimes it is not easy to identify the good. But I cannot conceive how God can be true to the nature he reveals in the Bible if he allows suffering that has no point.

The other great advantage a person of faith has is that we believe that when we open our lives to God we do not walk alone.

Even if I walk through a very dark valley, I will not be afraid because you are with me. Your rod and your shepherd’s staff comfort me.[2]

Often the only way out is through – running teaches us that. Life teaches us that. How good to know that you go through it with the God who knows the way through who knows that you have the capability to get through, and who will accomplish something worthwhile in the process.

Keep on running.

 

[1] Psalm 139 :16 ICB

[2] Psalm 23 :4 ICB