I used to be a runner. Seriously.
OK, so not all that seriously. I was more of a shuffler, to be honest. But I did go out a few nights a week and plod three or four miles around the neighborhood. Hardcore runners would never have admitted me into their club, but I did get to the point where I kind of enjoyed it. I felt better about myself for doing it, that’s for sure.
But you know how it goes. You change jobs or your kids’ lives turn complicated or whatever and next thing you know you’re back on the couch every night with a remote control in your hand. Honestly, I don’t remember why I stopped my evening jogs, but here we are, several years and 10 or 12 pounds later and I have lost the gumption.
The gumption, but not the desire. I remember both the physical and psychic benefits of the discipline, and I do miss it. I often feel like I ought to start up again. But how?
I read somewhere recently that “the first step is always the hardest.” I think that’s because of everything that leads up to that first step: overcoming the dread, clearing the time on my schedule, strapping on my shoes, making the visible declaration that “I’m going for a run” while realizing that for that to be meaningful there had better be other runs to follow. That’s what the first step looks like. After that, it’s just huffing and puffing, one foot after another. Those second, third, fourth steps—they’re way easier than the first one.
I’ve found that it’s not uncommon for people to feel this same sort of inner conflict when it comes to spiritual exercise. Maybe there was a time when you were regularly engaged in some sort of religious practice. Maybe it came easy to you, or not, but you regularly cultivated your personal spiritual development. And it felt good.
But you know how it goes. You move or someone mistreats you or your real-world obligations and interests demand more and more of your time. Or maybe your intellect simply overpowers belief and you tire of the inner turmoil. Whatever the reason, next thing you know you’ve put away your Bible, stopped attending services, and hardly think to pray anymore. Maybe you don’t even fully remember why, but now here you are, however-many years later, and “church” is simply no longer your thing.
Do you remember how it felt though? How it felt to surround yourself with like-minded people who were also striving to follow the teachings of Jesus, to do better, to be better? Do you remember those moments when you felt the reality of God’s love for you or the warmth of the Holy Spirit? How you sang “I Am a Child of God,” and the words rose up from your innermost being? Perhaps you would like to feel that way again.
Perhaps—if not for that ominous, overwhelming, almost-unthinkable first step—emotionally daunting just to think about. If only there were some way to find the gumption, the courage, the inner strength to begin. If only. . . .
Of course, there is. Isaiah reminds us that we do not embark on such journeys alone: “But they that wait upon the Lord shall renew their strength; they shall mount up with wings as eagles; they shall run, and not be weary; and they shall walk, and not faint” (Isaiah 40:31). It all begins with a single step—a step I would be delighted to take with you. God knows I could use the exercise.
Photo: Night Runner by Jeremy Brooks