Monday, October 17, 2016

Ultra Spiritual

I heard running ultras could be a spiritual experience. The mix of long days and night, extreme physical exertion, and mental anguish can lead to some incredible highs and lows. This is what I was looking to experience. I wanted to know what this kind of running would do to me, physically, mentally, and spiritually.

Emotionally, I know that it messed me up for a few days. As a non-emotional person, I experienced some rawness to my emotions that is very rare for me. It culminated in uncontrollable laughing fits for a few days after the race.

Physically, it challenged my body in ways I'd never been pushed before. You can read more about that here.

So what did running 100 miles in 26 hours do to me spiritually?

I always struggle with my call when it comes to race days. Outside of my job and ministry, I often find myself wanting to compartmentalize my life into a focus on the thing I'm doing. So when I show up to run a race, I want to let running be the emphasis of my day. I want to ignore who I am and how I'm called so I can just be a normal runner trying to reach my goals.

But that's not what God wants from us, is it? He doesn't want me to put my relationship with Jesus into a FBC compartment that comes out when appropriate. He wants me to let Him into my life at every level; being a representative of Him in whatever I'm doing.

This race, I was ready for that. I knew that I had a challenge ahead of me just in trying to run and finish such a long distance. But I also knew that my identity as a disciple of Jesus had to come out too in whatever ways I had opportunity.

So when I ran with two other guys and the subject of my job came up, I couldn't back down. I'm always afraid that if I tell strangers that I'm a Pastor, the air will change and it will become awkward. I fear that because it happens all the time. Not on this day. As the three of us with different spiritual backgrounds - cultural Mormon, atheist, Baptist - talked more and more into the day, I found that my opportunity was great. Though I wasn't there to walk them through the Gospel so they could stop running to say "the sinner's prayer", I did have every opportunity to show them a picture of Jesus and of Christians that is a far cry from what we see in the news. I prayed for these two awesome guys, I talked openly about my identity in Jesus, and listened to their ideas and thoughts about life, politics, and religion.

But then I got hurt. As my leg seized up and pain forced me to back off of running, I had to let my new friends go on ahead. "God, why would you let some stupid injury keep me from continuing with these guys?" I had actually tried to make sure I was running with purpose. Couldn't He have protected me from pulling a quad for that continued conversation? Wouldn't that glorify Him better than me limping along the gravel?

What a reminder of the mystery of God. We often like to think that He is more like a formula than a being. If only I do this, then God will do this... It doesn't work that way. Not only that, but blaming God for a pulled muscle is shallow theology. More likely, I turned wrong, slipped on a rock, or didn't cross-train enough to strengthen myself for this run.

But there I was... limping and praying. My words were these, "God, I know this is not the most important thing in the world. But I really want to finish this race. Can you help with this leg situation?" Over and over and asked God for His intervention. And believe me, I knew how little this mattered. Running 100 miles literally means nothing to the world. In fact, it can easily become a problem of pride when we just want to show people how great or tough we are. But I pleaded nonetheless.

And I made a deal. (Don't act like you haven't done it.) I offered that if God could help me to continue this race, I would make sure to give Him the credit. Though toughness has always been my most prized value, I would admit that it was not my own toughness but God's grace that allowed me to finish after an injury at 40 miles. Brutal honesty: I haven't quite lived up to my end of that deal. Ugh, pride.

There's a quote from British Olympic gold medalist Eric Liddell from the movie "Chariots of Fire" that always goes through my head when I'm running. He says to his sister, "God made me for a purpose. But He also made me fast... and when I run, I feel His pleasure."

As I pushed my body, mind, and spirit to continue under difficult circumstances - pulled quad, exhaustion, pain - I could feel the God who was there with me. Again, this may not be among the most important things I do in my life, but I believe God blesses our passions. And I can glorify Him even when doing "nonspiritual things".

A couple of other learnings...

I am a starter and not a finisher. I am impatient. I tend to look past things based on the time it will take to finish them. So ultrarunning may be exactly what I need. I'm learning patience, persistence, and how to stay in the moment. God will use those virtues in me as I continue to grow in Him.

We are not meant to be alone. I would have been lost without my crew. Matt: driving to aid stations, filling bottles, offering encouragement. Jolie and Katie: helping Matt but also running with me into the night as I began to hallucinate and just wanted to sleep. It's possible to run these things alone, but I can't imagine it. I'm reminded that none of us are created to be alone. Out of the community of God's Trinity, we are made and called into community; with each other, with God.

This was a tough race, but one in which I feel like God was at work. And He still is. As memories of that day continue to float back to me, I'm learning more of how God can use these experiences to change me.

So I'm not done. Now I'm praying for recovery and good health... cause there are more races in the spring.

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