10 August 2008

Track Practice

When I joined the race, I did it because so many other people were doing it. It looked like fun. It wasn’t until several laps into it that I realized I wasn’t living like a runner. I wasn’t raining my body and treating it in such a way that it would be capable of performing at a high level. Even though there was a group of others who ran my moderate pace, I looked ahead and noticed so many others running fast and strong. I was gazing left and right, observing the scenery, but the runners up ahead had their eyes fixed straight ahead. The people and noises on the sidelines had little effect on them. But there was enjoyment in my style – why would I want to give up all the things I found pleasure in before I became a runner? I liked junk food – it was appealing, and the packaging was so much more attractive than that of health food. It tasted really good, too.

But as I ran, I began noticing the negative effects of putting such junk into my body. I felt weak and tired and dehydrated. My muscles started cramping up and my stomach churned as I jogged down the track. Also, I didn’t like to practice. Once a week we had a chance to rest. Some of the runners, actually most of the experienced ones, were still going to the track and getting pointers from esteemed coaches and perfecting their technique. This didn’t make sense to me. On the one day I wasn’t required to work, all I wanted to do was hang out with my friends who weren’t runners. We had a pretty good time. Sometimes I even forgot I was a runner, and I did things that hindered my body’s physical health. It was so easy to go back to how I used to live when I was around so many people who shared my old habits.

When I got back to the track, I immediately jumped into the first lane and took off. A minute into the long race, I saw one of my opponents standing on the sideline. He had given up on running before he had even started. He didn’t believe there would be any prize at the finish line.
“And even if there is,” he told me, “I don’t want it! It’s so much better doing what I want whenever I want.” I glanced at him as I passed and he laughed, “You’ll never make it. The race is too long, and up ahead, the course will get rough. Come sit with me. Drop out of the race. It’s so much nicer sitting here in the grass.”
“I’m good,” I replied.

On my days off, I continued to avoid extra practices and workouts. My performance suffered. Before long, I started getting tired of running. I looked around and everyone else had started pairing off or running in groups. Some of the groups around me even had a pace coach and they were all encouraging each other to keep pace. Their coach also held them accountable for training and building their strength and stamina. I tried to trudge on alone, but my legs began screaming at me because they ached. I slowed and looked down. What? I noticed two weights fastened securely to my ankles. They were big and clunky and were labeled with big painted letters: SIN. A girl jogged past.
“Hey!” I shouted at her. “What are these things on my ankles?”
“They sure are slowing you down,” she said. “I’m impressed; you’ve been dragging those since you started.” She continued down the track. Since I started? How did I not notice? I looked around and so many people were running who had nothing around their ankles. Why were they having such an easy time? My curiosity grew concerning my method for running. Maybe someone else would know how to get rid of these weights – someone experienced, like a coach. I started looking around for someone to give me some pointers, someone who could give me some advice on running freely and effectively.


It feels wrong -- it feels wrong to still desire to sin. Like I'm just some horrible Christian because though I want to follow Jesus, I feel like I've got these big weights tied around my ankles and I'm trying to hide them instead of asking other people for help in cutting them off. Because have you ever tried running with weights tied around your ankles? This is no way to run a race. But I keep silent. I trudge along, hoping no one will notice I'm having such a hard time and believing maybe no one does. And I make it, a bit at a time. But when I look up and people are passing on the left and the right and my legs are screaming at me because it's too much of a burden, I want to stop. I want to give up. People are flying by, and I start convincing myself that no one will notice if I simply drop out, if I turn the other direction and slip off the side of the track. I then think I definitely won't be missed.

Then I start slowing down and squat for awhile in the outside lane -- just for a minute, I reason. Now this woman I barely know is standing over me, leaning down close and whispering, "Go, go! You can do it. Keep going. I believe in you." And I look at her, inspired that someone even noticed, and I start to pick myself up. She's the pace coach for four other girls and I see them in the far lane, all in stride. But they get tired too, and as their coach, it's her responsibility to return to them. You see, I have a coach. But my problem is, I don't always trust her running techniques. I've kind of explained my hindrance (these things around my ankles) and maybe she even understand that they are there, but she has no idea how big and clunky they are. She doesn't know how to deal with them so she tries to ignore them, too. I want to impress her so I don't complain about them.

I look back over and see this woman encouraging her team in the far lane. They tire and she paces them to persevere. That's so great, I think, and I trip. Bam. Flat onto the track -- bleeding knees and palms and overwhelming shame. I lay there for awhile hoping no one is laughing. The other coach makes a quick loop and jogs in place beside my broken self. And I don't get it. Why is she still here? Doesn't she realize I've been crashing and burning for more than half of the race? Doesn't she realize I'm a lost cause? I appreciate her words, but inside I'm so angry at myself for doing it again.

"Why? Why are you still here with me? Haven't you seen what I've done? In my shame I want to run and hide. I don't deserve you. I'm not sure I can open my heart to you. It's easier to pretend that I deserve to be behind and maybe it'd be best if I did drop out." And I start pushing her away. I don't see how she can cherish me! I get angry at myself and want to punish myself -- it's been nearly three weeks since my last fall and I remain on my feet. My opponents are trash-talking and telling me I'm not cut out for this race.

I've got a couple of teammates who've told me that even though the race is hard, it's totally worth it. They say it's a process, that I'll get better and stronger, and even though I've got so many scars and bruises from the difficulties up to this point, there's healing and redemption in Christ. That sounds pretty sweet, but what does it look like to grasp that? Why can't I just ask him to cut off these weights right now and run easily? Or is it me -- could it be this part of me that's hanging onto them for some reason? My ankles are rubbed raw from the burden and I find myself wishing that this race was almost over. But really, I know this full well, it has only just begun. It may be tough, sometimes seemingly more than I can bear (but it's not, really), but the prize that awaits at the end makes it worthwhile. James 1:12 - Blessed is the man who perseveres under trial, because when he has stood the test, he will receive the crown of life that God has promised to those who love him.


Emily said...

You are such a beautiful writer! I am so glad that I can read your blog and that the Lord has given you such insight and talent.

I can really relate to this post - both because I am a struggling runner both in this world and in the eternal race. I too have had weights on my ankles for a long time (in the eternal race). And I learned they were still there because I had not let them go. I was given the key to release them (Christ's forgiveness) but I kept it in my pocket. Not because I wanted to keep the weights, but because the key seemed to foreign to me - as if I didnt know what it was though it had been explained to me. I didnt know how to use the key. I ran for a long time with weight, and kept reading about this key that I had. I read about why it was given to me and how I can use it - but it is a choice to use it. And so I finally chose. Turning that key and releasing that weight was one of the most wonderful feelings - a taste of freedom. The weight lies on the ground now, and there are times I still trip over them. If I would only learn to move them off the track.

The suprising thing is that I think even those that pace faster than you (and me) that seem to have no weights to bear, probably feel the same way. While it does get better, I think it is a continual process until we get to the prize and have eternal freedom and perfect, complete healing. I think too often, especially in the church, we hide the weights and dont share them with others because of our shame. But in reality, it just makes us more broken because we cannot share them and release them. I think more often than not, all runners struggle, but we all pose as well seasoned racers. We are all at different levels in the race, but the same struggles exist. I think if we could come together more as a team and share the burden, then the freedom and spiritual gain we would have would move the mountains. If we could only face our fear to share our shame so that we could release it to our perfect Heavenly Father that forgives.

If we could only be completely honest and real.

Psalm 68:19
Praise be to the Lord, to God our Savior, who daily bears our burdens.

Galatians 6:2
Carry each other's burdens, and in this way you will fulfill the law of Christ.

Excerpt from "Why are you carrying that?" (http://www.hutchcraft.com/A-Word-With-You/Your-Most-Important-Relationship/Why-Are-You-Carrying-That-5254)

Now, you may be telling God about the weight you're carrying, about how heavy it is, about what you'd like Him to do about it. But that doesn't mean you're leaving it with Him; casting those cares on Him. Picture yourself walking into God's Throne Room, all bent over, carrying that person or that situation or that need on your back. Now picture yourself leaving God's Throne Room after you've prayed about it. Are you still all bent over, or did you leave that burden in the hands of Almighty God? If so, you'll leave His Throne Room walking tall.

It's God's burden now. You've surrendered trying to be the fixer, the solver, the figure-outer, the controller. You've decided to live the truth of that promise that is repeated several times in Scripture, "The battle is the Lord's." It may have been yours when you entered His presence, but not any more. It's His battle now.

The old hymn is so insightful when it says, "O what peace we often forfeit, O what needless pain we bear, all because we do not carry everything to God in prayer." Needless pain. Needless worry. Needless emotional weight. Philippians 4:6-7 says that when you give your anxieties to God, you trade stress for "the peace of God which transcends all understanding." Psalm 55 says that when you let God carry it, He will sustain you; He will keep you from falling. So there you are all burdened down, stressed, discouraged. And your Lord has just one question for you, "Why are you carrying that?"

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