1 // People can see me doing it.
This is me breaking cover.
By writing this blog post I am telling you I am running.
I could run on a treadmill in the house or I could run outside at the dead of night wearing a luminous orange head band and a bright yellow safety jacket (what . . . what WAS that?) but, certainly in terms of cost (I can’t afford a treadmill) and time (I need my sleep) I have had to settle for running during the day.
Visible to passers by.
We all have our routines. The more I run, the more I see the same people and the more I see that they see me too. Little nods of recognition have started to occur. These people will also be able to tell, after a while, whether or not I am a serious runner or a flash in the pan. If they stop seeing me – because I pack it in . . . they will know; if they stop seeing me – because it is raining . . . they will know; if they stop seeing me – because I’m in Cafe Nero instead having a large caramel latte . . . they will know.
I have found that if I spot another runner coming towards me my knees go up, I gain an extra spring in my step and attempt an effortless stride (I don’t wan’t to look stupid I think, as my knee slams into my jaw . . . ).
I have found that if another runner flies passed me my rhythm goes to pot as I eat their dust and wonder how someone twice my size has just made me look like I’m standing still.
Discipleship lesson : I’m asking myself this since I started running. Is my “following Jesus” clear? Do people know that is what I am doing? Am I living a distinctive life in front of people? Before I started running again (I started in earnest at the end of February, so – I’ve only been at this for just coming up to 12 weeks) my wife used to pull me up if she heard me talking about running (as if I did it) . . . I would be gently reminded that I hadn’t actually *been* a runner for 25 years. It’s simple really.
I’m not a runner if, you know, I’m not actually running.
I’m not a disciple if I’m not actually following Jesus.
2 // I need the right gear.
I used to laugh at those blokes of a certain age wobbling along on bikes covered in their skin tight costumes (the blokes, not the bikes).
MAMILS is the term. Middle Aged Men In Lycra.
What do they look like? It’s not like they are entering the Tour De France! And the flippin’ cost. My life – a £900 bike + all the clobber. I’m cheap me.
Firstly, I’m running – so no need for a bike AND I’m not doing the 100m in an Olympic final, so definitely no need for the lycra. So, I bought myself some £12 running shoes off Amazon. I wore an old batman t-shirt and a pair of baggy tracksuit bottoms (which, as an aside, is what I used to wear to just go out, how my wife started going out with me, never mind marrying me – I do not know – I just thank the Lord).
So, I had a go. My feet – good grief my feet. It felt like there was nothing between the soles of my feet and the concrete. I could barely walk in these *running* shoes, never mind jog a bit. I knew I was out of shape, but I could barely lift my feet off the ground and when I did I was loathe to put them back down because it hurt so much to make contact.
I bought some decent trainers. It’s not quite like running on air, but it has made a huge difference. You can actually (so I have found out) irreparably damage your feet if you run with poor quality trainers. It isn’t worth it. If you run, buy yourself a decent pair.
Discipleship Lesson : I can’t begin to tell you how many times I have encouraged young people to think about how they are connecting with God and what tools He has given us for being in relationship with Him and following him closely. There are no cheap knock offs that will get us closer to Jesus than reading the Bible and praying. I know right – obvious? So, what would be the spiritual equivalent of slamming my feet in to the concrete whilst wearing inadequate trainers?
Let me see – here are a couple : 1. Reading and reading and reading stuff about the Bible without actually reading the Bible (someone else thoughts, reflections and opinions about God’s word, however inspired are a pale comparison to reading God’s word for myself). We are encouraged to “mediate on God’s word day and night.” (Psalm 1:2). Not, “Ohh, that’s interesting there . . . what [Insert name of famous Christian celebrity] has said on twitter, I had better give that a RT”. 2. Prayer is the running equivalent of remembering to breathe. I’ve noticed that when I set off on a run I am sometimes gasping for breath before I have gone 100 yards . . . I think what is happening here is I don’t get my breathing sorted until I am in to a bit of rhythm – I settle down, find my stride and relax in to my breathing. In and out, regular pace . . . like “day and night.” I will not run very far if I’m gulping in air or holding my breath. Prayer is like that – regularly and often, develop a pattern. Wow, what would it be like if I was just praying – you know, in communion with God and everything just felt right . . . almost to the point where I’m not trying, it’s just normal. Like breathing.
3 // I can’t do it without support.
A while ago (I can’t remember exactly when, it might have been as long ago as five years . . . ) I was attempting to get going with my running – I think I had managed consistency of about 2 weeks – when I felt something *pop* just above my ankle. I was nearly home so I hobbled on. I then walked around complaining about this pain in my leg for about six weeks. Then I went to the Doctors. They sent me away for being a wuss. Finally, I went to A&E. They said, “oh yeah, you have had a stress fracture . . . but it’s healing now.”
Great. Walking around on a stress fracture.
But they had said it is “healing now” . . . so, off I went for a run. I would be alright for a week or two, then the pain in my leg would get too much and I would need a week or two off. It would not be accurate to say I kept going through this cycle of two weeks of running followed by a relapse for the next five years . . . BUT, I have now been running since the end of February consistently (three times a week) . . . and, although I usually have a bit of an ache in what is still a weak lower right leg, it is nothing compared with the pain I had been experiencing.
So what changed?
I got an ankle support. It sits snuggly and unobtrusively under my sock, but I know it is there. It gives my weak ankle the support it needs. It is enough. AND, what is more – the more I run now, the stronger this ankle is getting.
Discipleship Lesson : I can’t be a disciple by myself. There are quite a few calls in the Bible where Jesus says, “follow me” and, if we focus on nothing but those statements we can think that following Jesus is simply about a one to one relationship with the Lord.
Me and Jesus running along together. Just the two of us.
Yet, we are not called to be independent followers. We need each other, we are part of the “community of the called out ones”. When Jesus tells Peter that He is going to fail Him, He says some amazing words,
“But I have prayed for you, Simon, that your faith will not fail. And when you have turned back strengthen your brothers.“
This is basically Jesus encouraging Peter before his *spiritual stress fracture*. His failure and weakness does not lead to the failure and collapse of his faith. Think about that for the moment, Jesus clearly distinguishes between Peter failing Him and Peter’s faith. Peter is then given a job to do, He is not the only one who is weak . . . the other disciples will need strengthening and encouraging.
In my pride I do at times think “I should just be able to get on” or “I’ve been a follower for 37 years . . . how come I’m still a mess?” This is wrongheaded, pigheaded stupidity . . . like me ignoring my weak ankle and heading out with no protection and just hoping I’ll manage.
I had to get to a place of acknowledgement – I am not 23 anymore, I cannot just shake off this injury and run as if it never happened.
We carry our scars – both physically and spiritually, they shape us. We also have to shape our run, our race, our life with Jesus by taking them in to account. We need the support of the Body, we need a space where we can trust that we are free to be honest about our weaknesses, we need each other.
We cannot spiritually run the race unaided.
4 // I see things I would never normally see.
Now I have been at this for 12 weeks I am beginning to simply relax in to my running (sort of!) and, pounding a familiar route, I am seeing things I have never noticed before. At about 3K in, I turn left off a main road in to a country lane and to the right of me is a field with a step bank rising to meet the road. The bank is full of holes and often as I run past there are rabbits all over the slope “gambling” (is that the word?) jumping about anyway, it’s pretty idyllic.
Driving past I wouldn’t notice. Driving is generally about the destination, I get in the car to get somewhere.
Running is more than that. Again, this might seem obvious, but I’m in the elements. The wind, the rain, the sun, the smell of the fields, exhaust fumes, the sound of my laboured breathing . . . I’m not cocooned from all of this in a car. The more I run the same route, the more I see in the increasingly familiar landscape. I know that if I reach that rise after this steep climb, I can ease up and recover for the next incline. I know that once I go past a certain bit of verge near a lay-by, I’m on the home stretch. I know that from a certain vantage point at the top of this slope I can see for miles, see a view from just this spot that nobody else could see unless they were right where I am . . . it lasts a moment, but it delights me every time.
Discipleship Lesson : “Familiarity breeds contempt.” a phrase variously attributed to Chaucer, Aesop or an ancient roman philosopher is actually rubbish. It implies that the more we get to know something or someone, the more we will see what is wrong with it – see the faults. If this is how we chose to live, we are destined for a life of disappointment in the spiritual and the natural. What is it we focus on when we pray? Who is it we focus on when we pray? Is it the act itself, or is it the one we love, we are meeting with, the one who loves us and longs for us to simply be in His presence?
Brother Lawrence found, in the simplicity of tasks repeated, he was free to dwell in the presence of God. The more I run, the more I find myself in a “sweet spot” where the running, the rhythm, my breathing all seem to fit together and I feel (for about 15 seconds) as if I could run forever! How much of being in God’s presence is too much? There is so much more to delight in and discover than I have yet known, the simple, repeated practices of prayer open up new ways of being with God. The often read passages of scripture reveal new things as I return to them again and again.
5 // I am only a beginner.
12 weeks of consistent running is nothing. I am finally up to running the 5K distance (!), but it has been slow and steady building up to that distance. I am not even thinking of how fast I am running . . . but, the thing is although I have run before (ok, yes, a quarter of a century ago . . . ) it feels like I have never run before this 12 week period. If I continue running (I aim to blog again in 6 months on some additional things I am learning!) then to retain my level of fitness I’m going to have to hit a certain number of miles a week, get out there so many times, start to vary my activity . . .
I sometimes start a run and my body cries out to me, “what are you doing?!” I’m out there maybe three times a week . . . so there are runners like me and then there are “runners”.
Discipleship Lesson : In “running speak”, consider these phrases . . . “I am the worst of runners” and “Run after me as I run after Christ”. If you have sussed the origin of those verses, they are both from Paul. (1 Timothy 1:15-16; 1 Corinthians 11:1) . . . He is basically saying, look – if I can follow Christ, anyone can. Even I can run! Even I can follow Christ.
I have been following for 37 years, but still feel like a beginner. There are simple truths and practices I have yet to fully get in to.
Being a disciple, being a follower of Jesus is a paradox – I cannot “work” or “run” myself in to a relationship with Jesus – I am loved, I am forgiven. Through no effort of my own I am a joint heir with Christ!
Yet, in practice I find myself returning again and again to the first things. The basics, the core stuff. It is referred to as milk in the Bible in both Hebrews and 1 Corinthians. These things lay the foundation for a life in Christ. A life that doesn’t let go of God and His goodness no matter how tough the path, how long the race, how challenging the elements.
I love this passage from Brother Lawrence,
“How happy we would be if we could find the treasure of which the Gospel speaks; all else would be as nothing. As it is boundless, the more you search for it the greater the riches you will find; let us search unceasingly and let us not stop until we have found it.”
― Brother Lawrence, The Practice of the Presence of God
6 // The run isn’t enough – I need a purpose.
I recently agreed to do something crazy. I’ve signed up to do the Cambridge 5K Survival Run in August. It is a run with survival challenges thrown in . . . I’m running it for a fantastic charity “The Courage Foundation UK” (check them out).
Having this ahead of me, this goal, is concentrating the mind when I am out running. I know I’m going to be doing this survival run in August, so I need to be getting ready. I know I won’t manage it if I just rock up and hope for the best without putting the work in.
This might be where always being able to draw a comparison between running and the spiritual life breaks down – but, for me, this is one of the things I am learning that makes the most sense.
Running for me has a purpose, I have a goal. It is a bit nebulous in some ways, and I won’t necessarily know when I have got to this goal but, put simply, my goal is to “be fitter”. I’m knocking on the door of 48, I have two comparatively young children (8 and 10 at the time of writing). I want to be able to run around, cycle, go for adventure walks, swim and climb mountains with my girls . . . I have a reason for keeping in shape!
Running for The Courage Foundation is a signpost on the way, I’m running for them to raise money (you can support me here!) – but, I know I could not run for them at all if I did not get myself fit.
Discipleship Lesson : We were made for worship. We were made for our creator – to delight in him and celebrate Him for ever. Every thing I do, each little marker along the way of this race called life, each stake in the ground should say – I am living for Jesus! The challenge of living on purpose and with purpose is recognising whose purpose is being served? My reason for running is not for runnings sake, it is for the benefits – as full and as active a life with my daughters as they grow up that I can manage and, because I can manage 5K, being able to support and encourage some amazing friends by using the running for a purpose.
Again, from Brother Lawrence, we have these wonderful words;
“That the most excellent method he had found of going to GOD, was that of doing our common business without any view of pleasing men, [Gal. i. 10; Eph. vi. 5, 6.] and (as far as we are capable) purely for the love of GOD.”
To live this life, run this race – purely for the love of God. This is the essence of being a disciple, being a follower. This is purpose. To know God and, through living for Him, to make Him known.