This past October, some of my friends and I signed up to run a half-marathon in Washington, D.C. That means 13.1 miles of my blue and grey Asics patting against the pavement of our nation’s capitol. Thirteen point one. That’s about ten miles more than I ever thought I could run.
I never thought I would, or even could, be a runner. Swimming was the only sport I ever did (seriously — I never played a sport until my sophomore year of high school), and although I considered track, I decided against it. College rolled around and since I no longer had an obligatory three-hour swim practice after school five days a week, I started running instead. And I loved it.
But like I said, I never even dreamed I could run more than three miles at a time. I wanted to, I suppose. But three miles was enough for me. I wasn’t training for anything, so I didn’t think to push myself. I’d heard of marathons and half-marathons and whatnot, but somewhere along the line I figured I’d never get myself into that kind of craziness.
…and then I met all these crazy (awesome) people who ran, too, and they wanted to run a half-marathon, so I joined in. I really had no idea what I was getting into.
Training was going really well. During the week, I looked forward to waking up (sometimes before the sun, always in the freezing cold of our Pennsylvania winter) to run and chat with my friends. Saturday mornings were set aside for long runs, and starting at four miles, we would add a mile each Saturday in hopes of eventually getting to 12 before the big race. Yes, my body was sore all the time, but I felt great and I loved getting to know my running companions.
Tragedy, or what seemed to be a tragedy, struck about a month ago. It was a beautiful Saturday, sunny in spite of the snowy tundra that coated the town the night before. There were four of us that morning, ready for the eight-mile trek ahead of us — or so we thought.
To say that my body turned against me about halfway through the run would be a lie. It did not turn against me. It simply was not physically prepared. I had never trained for any type of running race in my life, so I had no idea what my body could and could not handle. Entering the fourth mile, I knew a blister was forming on the inside of my left foot. I knew something was wrong with the toes on my left foot. I knew I was using my right leg to compensate for the pain in my left. But I kept going.
I finished the eight miles. And I finished strong, ignoring the pain. We took a walk around the block to cool down and returned to our friend’s apartment to stretch and hydrate. I felt fine, and I was glad we were done, proud that I had accomplished more than half of the race already. But when I took off my shoes to check the damage, my left sock was soaked through with blood in the toe area and I indeed had a blister on the inside of my foot.
Weirdly enough, I wasn’t in any pain. The pain came two days later. But in my right leg — all the way from my hip, radiating down into my shin.
After a week of (reluctant) rest, a failing attempt to run again, and two doctor’s visits, I’m still sitting here with an injured right leg. It’s been over a month now. I’ve stopped running altogether, and even though I’ve been cross-training with stationary bikes, ellipticals, swimming, and yoga, it’s difficult not to think that I’ve lost all the hard work I was putting into this race. Although the doctor told me that I will be able to run the half-marathon, I am reminded daily by the dull pain in my strained quadricep that I will not be able to run it with the endurance and strength I thought I would be able to by training. It’s undeniably frustrating.
Something dawned on me recently, though. Well, it didn’t just dawn on me. God totally planted this little seed in my head, knowing I would be compelled to write about it, to make it blossom into something that might speak to somebody else. Let me try to explain.
The funny thing about my injury — how it happened, how I dealt with it, how it’s healing — is that it reminds me a lot of how faith works, specifically my own.
Training is supposed to strengthen you, prepare you for the race you are planning to run. The moment that God opens your heart to Him and you accept Him doesn’t end there. Faith takes training, too. Our faith is strengthened by that training, like praying, reading our Bibles, having fellowship with one another, etc. We become more and more prepared for this race called “life.” God has this wonderful, amazing plan for our lives, and as long as we trust and believe in those promises, we can endure anything — including a 13.1-mile race.
But sometimes our bodies are not prepared. Sometimes we don’t realize just how unprepared we are, and so we push ourselves because we think we can take control. We think we’ll be okay without listening to what our bodies are telling us.
Slow down. It’s okay — you can walk. You’re not ready. Listen to me.
I ignored every warning sign my body was giving me to slow down. I thought I could do it. Honestly, I thought I was invincible. I’d never been injured swimming in high school, so why would I ever hurt myself running? I thought I had everything under control. Yes, I finished the eight miles. I accomplished my goal, but with consequences.
The same thing happens when we decide we are in control of any situation. When we think we call the shots — that’s when things go wrong. And not even right away sometimes. Sometimes it takes two days or more; weeks, months, years before we notice the damage we’ve caused. The pain can hit us all at once, but it never heals right away. Sharp pain turns to dull pain, and we have to endure it before it gets better, before we can start running normally again.
How silly we are to think we know exactly how things are supposed to work! How is it that we rarely recognize the freedom we have in being able to let go and just listen? It is so easy, though, to get swept away by our own selfish natures. I couldn’t tell you exactly why, but it is much easier to grasp the shadowy hand of sadness, or anger, or fear, or control than to realize Jesus’ ever-present embrace.
That thought leads me to the story of Jesus’ disciples when they became fearful of the storm while out at sea. They gave into fear even when Jesus said, “Why are you so afraid? Do you still have no faith?” (Mark 4:40) It is so easy to forget we don’t have to be afraid — we just have to listen and trust.
So my body wasn’t prepared to run those eight miles. I know that now, but for the time being I have to endure this frustration and wait until my leg is totally healed before I start running again. Hopefully everything will be okay for the race, but we’ll just have to see.
Like my body, sometimes my heart is not prepared to endure certain types of emotional and spiritual strains. I am usually shocked by those things, although I shouldn’t be because we live in a fallen world where sin is crawling on every surface. That’s not to say that we should not feel pain because of sin, but I should not live as if those things don’t happen. Still, I become weary in my faith, and although I feel ashamed to say that I doubt God’s presence, I know that I do. But the great thing about God is that He never changes. My faith is always fluctuating and the world is so broken, but He remains the same.
By remembering the injury in my leg, I can train better next time to prepare myself for a more strenuous workout. By remembering God’s faithfulness in my darkest moments, I can train my heart to have faith in Him in all aspects of my life. But unlike running, which I must do on my own accord to get in better shape, God is constantly working in my heart to prepare me for everything. He is always there in the midst of chaos and pain, guiding me even when I refuse to acknowledge Him. He, ultimately, perfects my faith in Him.
The healing process for my leg seems like it is never going to come to an end. I know I will be able to run again thanks to the amazing ability God gave our bodies to heal, but in the meantime all I can do is wait. Of course, I want everything to be better now, but this is an opportunity for me to be patient and trust that everything will be okay in God’s timing. And that applies to all areas of my life. Trudging through the mud and the muck will come to an end and we will receive the reward we are promised.
I am so excited to travel to D.C. with my friends for this race. (Shout out to all of you — you know who you are! Thank you all for being so encouraging.) It’s going to be a blast whether I decide to run the whole thing or walk if I feel any pain (lesson learned!). This entire experience is helping me learn more and more everyday to trust and to be patient and to rest. Because we are all free to do that in Jesus, who endured death for us so we can find freedom in Him.
As Hebrews 12:1-2 says,
“And let us run with endurance the race God has set before us. We do this by keeping our eyes on Jesus, the champion who initiates and perfects our faith. Because of the joy awaiting Him, He endured the cross, disregarding its shame. Now He is seated in the place of honor beside God’s throne.”