This morning, cold rain falls from the sky and the air has its first real nip. A true fall day if there ever was one. I lingered under the covers longer than I should have, so we scrambled through our morning routine to get the kids to the bus on time.
I ought to be out there now, walking and jogging, listening to some upbeat tunes to lead me through my workout. Instead, I’m huddled under another blanket with a cup of coffee and words to keep me company.
For five of the last six weeks, since my kids have been in school, I’ve reintroduced regular times of exercise to my life. I began, again, a couch to 5k program, and it’s been slow going. After five weeks, I’ve officially completed three of the program’s weeks and I’m not sure yet I’m ready to move on to week 4.
But I’m trying not to be sad about this. I’m a task-oriented person and many times I just want to check the boxes and get it done, but I’m learning to listen to my body and my life and take it as it comes.
Besides the rain and chill this morning, I had a bit of a sore throat. I could go out there running but I might come home having weakened my immune system and be sick for days to come. There will be more running days next week.
This is, in a way, grace.
I have a lot of “shoulds” in my life, some valid, some not. Exercise brings this out in me, sometimes, as I run against traffic and imagine the criticisms of passing motorists. (Why I think they think of me at all is another problem altogether.)
That girl should not be running, I think. My weight is more than what I would like, and I am not fast or elegant. My first time out this fall I spent more time adjusting my T-shirt and trying to keep the headphones in my ears and focusing on not dropping my water bottle than I did on anything else. I’ve found solutions and more of a rhythm since then, but I am not what you would call a graceful runner.
But I am running. For multiple minutes at a time. And I am tired and sweaty and red-faced when I finish, but I feel strong and alive.
That, too, is grace.
I pass an older man who walks by shuffling his feet along. And I see others who walk with canes or use a wheelchair to get around, and I vow to enjoy the use of my legs for as long as I have them, even when my calves start to cramp and my feet hurt.
Eventually, I want to run a 5K. It has been five years since the last time. It is a feat I never thought I would accomplish, but I did it once and I will do it again. My husband and I finished nearly last in that race, but we finished.
I’ve heard it said that slow and steady wins the race. It’s a lie.
I think of this when I’m out jogging. I am slow. I won’t win any races or break any records.
Slow and steady rarely wins the race. But slow and steady is in the race, and that, I think, is what matters.
There’s a lot of talk in the Bible, especially in Paul’s letters and other epistles, about running the race and training yourself for the Christian life like you would for a physical contest. And it only really makes sense to me when I’m actually out there jogging and running and walking and working toward a goal.
What I love about the program I’m using to build my running muscles is that it’s doable and it starts off gradually. The program doesn’t tell you to wake up one morning after having never run a step in your life and attempt a 5k.
Instead, you alternate running and walking. The first week it’s something simple like one minute of jogging with 90 seconds of walking to follow. This week I’ve just finished, I’m up to 3 minutes of jogging at a time. The next step is 5 minutes.
It eases you into the discipline of running, building your confidence and your muscles at the same time.
And I wonder why we don’t adopt this model in our spiritual lives.
Why do we tell people they must spend 30 minutes or an hour in “quiet time” with God, or insist they read at least a chapter of the Bible daily? Why do we tout the benefits of lengthy prayer times or multiple days of fasting?
Maybe not all spiritual communities are like this, but I don’t remember much in my years of following Christ being said about easing into this new way of living. Spirituality, for someone who is new to it, takes as much training and getting used to as running does to someone who has been on the couch for too many years.
If we wouldn’t pull a sedentary person off the couch and throw them into a marathon, why would we tell someone new to walking with Christ that they must be spiritually strong? Or why would we assume that spiritual practices come easy to everyone who calls themselves a Christian? Not all humans excel at running. It certainly doesn’t come easy to me.
In this, too, we need grace. For ourselves and each other.
Back to the “shoulds.”
I should be reading my Bible every day.
I should be praying more intentionally.
I should be at church whenever the doors are open.
I should be reading my kids Bible stories at night.
I should pray before meals.
I should memorize Scripture.
I should trust God all the time and not worry or doubt or have questions.
These are the shoulds that keep me out of the race. (And there’s a whole lot of “should nots” that would take up another entire post.) When I compare myself to these standards, I want to quit the race altogether. If I believed I could only call myself a runner if I entered a marathon, I would sit on the couch all the rest of my days.
What if instead of focusing on the shoulds, I, instead, faced the reality of where I am and figured out a plan to get where I want to be?
I want to pray more, so I’ll start with five minutes every other day.
I want to know Scripture better, so I’ll start with one verse.
I want to hear God, so I’ll start with one minute of silence.
And when those steps cease to become challenging, I’ll add to it.
That’s how I know when I’m ready for the next step in the running program. If it no longer feels like a challenge, then I’m ready to move on, until that one no longer feels like a challenge, and someday, months from now, I’ll be further along than I thought was possible.
Whether it’s running or praying or helping my neighbor, it matters less to me how much I’m doing than that I am doing.
I’m no longer in it to win it, whatever that means. I’m just in it, period.
Don’t worry about winning the race when you’ve only just begun. Just get in the race. Get off the couch or out of the pew or into a situation that isn’t warm and cozy.
Do the next step. Build your spiritual muscles. See where it leads.
And when you get further along the path, remember the person behind you who is starting off slow and cheer them on for being in the race at all.