“I don’t want to go.”
My daughter informed me that she had qualified to run in the district track meet but that she didn’t care to. Only the top three runners in each event are sent to compete with students from all the other schools in our area. Her news thrilled me, so I puzzled over her reluctance.
She had one goal.
After the first meet of the season, my daughter had just one goal: to run the 1600M in less than six minutes. Despite her diligent efforts in practice and pushing herself at meets, the closest she got was 6:00.34. Those fractions of a second (!) were frustrating to her but the time still qualified for the middle school district meet.
The runners lined up for the race, tense and leaning in. I knew the girls on either side of my gal were also the top competitors from their respective schools. Gunsmoke signaled the last race of the season was underway. As the pack thinned and the girls found their own rhythms, I watched my daughter settle into her stride, praying silently that she’d reach her goal in the coming minutes.
Two sports. Same season. Vastly different results.
My daughter has been playing basketball in a non-school league, as mentioned in On the Court: Part I and Part II. During exactly the same timeframe, she’s also been competing on her school’s track team. In terms of success, the two experiences have been diametrically different.
In track, she’s been her team’s lead female runner in the 1600M, earning the highest place for the school in each meet even if she didn’t win. On the basketball court, however, her team has suffered excruciating losses, logging 30 and 50 point deficits with nary a win for the entire season.
The faith illustration didn’t stop there for me, however.
The coach’s instruction, audible to those listening intently, was one simple word: “Doubles.” The girls immediately shifted their defensive strategy and double-teamed their tall, ball-carrying opponent.
We’re not meant to go through life alone.
My daughter plays basketball.
That, in and of itself, is a pure wonder to me since I still duck and/or scream when a ball is thrown in my general direction. (Go ahead, mock me.) I take delight in watching her play with her team the same way I reveled in her first steps as a toddler: it thrills me.
Being in the gym during a game is, however, an assault on my senses. It’s crowded. Cracked plastic bleachers force me to constantly shift in my seat. The visual stimulus of a rapidly-moving game keeps my eyes darting up and down the court. But it’s the sound that really overwhelms me.
For more than six years, on and off, I’ve been battling an injury to my left foot. As someone who classifies herself as a runner, this has been a major disruption to my singular choice of physical activity. I have pursued multiple interventions: rest (temporary and prolonged), chiropractic, oral and injected anti-inflammatories, boot immobilization, taping, and physical therapy. While each mitigated the effects, none corrected the problem completely.
That’s because I continue to cause the problem with my biomechanics. My stride is shorter on my right foot than on my left so, over many miles, I spend a disproportionate amount of time on the left, resulting in stress that mimics a fracture. The only long-term solution is to retrain my gait. As a human born with Adam’s sin, my relationship with God is dysfunctional apart from the sacrifice of Christ. After trusting in Him for my salvation, His Spirit begins the work of sanctification in my life: reshaping my spiritual gait. The lessons I’ve learned from running while retraining my gait had striking similarities to the process of spiritual formation.
I have had multiple running comrades over the years. Some of them have near-flawless form and rarely suffer injuries. Their good form didn’t rub off on me; I had to do the work. My fellow sojourners play a role in my salvation by sharing the truth of the gospel and inspiring me to mature in my faith. But I am not saved by their words or proximity to them: I must square my accounts with God myself through Christ.
My right adductor is weak, allowing my right foot to turn out. As a result my stride is shortened, which in turn has permitted my hamstring to tighten up. My efforts to keep my feet parallel are fatiguing my puny little adductor and causing intense stretching in my hamstring. Bringing my life into conformity with Christ stretches and reshapes my mind and heart. I surrender habits, thought patterns, language and maybe even suffer the loss of some friendships when I pursue God with all I am.
I have to focus my mental energy on every step I take. When my mind wanders, my wayward right foot goes with it. I must continuously and deliberately place my plantar with every turnover. My natural gait is defective and detrimental to my health. Similarly, my sinful nature is corrupt and costs me my life in eternity apart from Christ. Though I can do nothing to earn the gift He gave, I can strive to live a redeemed life that gives Him the glory. It will require effort and a continual submission to His will and the instruction His Word offers.
It’s about progress, not perfection:
My gait will never be perfect. I am fearfully and wonderfully made (Psalm 139:14), but my body suffers under the curse of a fallen world. Every degree of improvement I make to my stride will garner me more steps that aren’t as prone to injury. Though I will never attain perfection this side of heaven, I know that with every step I move closer to Christ, He is honored and more visible in me.
It requires perseverance, but is profitable:
It will take a long time to have the new gait feel natural instead of alien. My body was designed with the capacity for running, but my form must be true to the design to avoid injury. I must be dedicated in my effort: giving up would only end in further injury, robbing myself of something I was meant to enjoy. If I persevere, the result will be less pain in my foot. Likewise, I can continue to live according to my flesh and never look any different than one who doesn’t know Jesus. But He meant for me to know and experience the abundant life of a believer abiding in Him transformed by the renewing of my mind (Romans 12). What greater gain could there be?
Therefore, since we are surrounded by such a great cloud of witnesses, let us throw off everything that hinders and the sin that so easily entangles. And let us run with perseverance the race marked out for us, 2 fixing our eyes on Jesus, the pioneer and perfecter of faith. For the joy set before him he endured the cross, scorning its shame, and sat down at the right hand of the throne of God. 3 Consider him who endured such opposition from sinners, so that you will not grow weary and lose heart.
— Hebrews 12:1-3
Let’s run! I’ll see you out there…
Thanks to Beholding Glory for hosting the link up!