Friday Deep- Running

Posted on April 30, 2010

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I hate to run.  I wish I’d known that when I started running a couple of years ago.  How was I supposed to know?  All the models on the cover of Runner’s World had six-packs and huge, goofy smiles like they had just gotten off the tilt-a-whirl at the fair.  Come run, they seemed to be saying to me, it’s better than crack, and cheaper. Which is a lie, by the way- not the crack part (that may also be true), but definitely the cheaper part.  I started running, and not two weeks later I found myself standing in a specialty running shoe store, buying running shoes so scientifically advanced that NASA fires them into outer space, hoping extra-terrestrials find them and get scared of us.  Of course, the shoe names help with that.

Store Employee: Ok, I see you’re interested in the Brookzuno Wave-Beaster Demolition.  In addition to the nacelle  in the heel that emits a tachyon burst every time your foot hits the ground, there’s a built-in heart monitor, BlueTooth link-up both to your iPod and personal performance tracker, and a sensor that attaches to your nipples and reads your diaphragm to prevent your bladder from dilating.  That costs $375, and you’ll get a 10% discount.

Me: I’d like to pay full price.

So if I’d known that I hate to run, I could have saved myself a good amount of money and time.  It wasn’t all a waste, though.  At one point I got so thin my pastor mentioned that I might think about eating something once in a while.  And I ran two half-marathons in pretty good times, although my lasting memories of those races will be the many children that zoomed past me, powered solely by Cinnamon Toast Crunch and Code Red Mountain Dew.  These are two substances I’m confident we’ll look at, 100 years from now, in the same way as crystal meth.

It’s not that I don’t like to run, per se.  I love basketball, soccer, volleyball, football, whatever.  If it’s a sport, chances are I’ll try to play it.  I’ll scramble around like a balloon with the air going out of it, and love every second.  But I just don’t like running. Something about just lacing up some shoes, hitting the road with some tunes and clocking some miles, just doesn’t appeal to me.  My lungs clench up.  I wish I could go faster.  I get bored.  And I’m alone with my thoughts, the primary one of them being, “How much longer do I have to do this before I can stop and go read Calvin and Hobbes?”

The one consequence of growing up in a church environment is that the stories have all been told and heard before.  Christmas, Easter, Pentecost, the one pot-luck where everyone’s mom brought grilled cheese- these celebrations are sometimes just a little too familiar.  But the other day I was leafing through Matthew in Eugene Peterson’s paraphrase of the Bible The Message, and found this part of Jesus’ resurrection story.  It’s right after Mary Magdalene and the other Mary discover the empty tomb.

“[The Angel said to them] Now get on your way quickly and tell his disciples, ‘He is risen from the dead.  He is going on ahead of you to Galilee.   You will see him there.’  That’s the message.”  The women, deep in wonder and full of joy, lost no time in leaving the tomb.  They ran to tell the disciples.  Then Jesus met them, stopping them in their tracks…..They fell to their knees, embraced his feet, and worshiped him.

Which got me thinking about running.  What did it feel like to be the two Marys that day?  I imagine them tearing towards the disciples with reckless abandon, their lungs burning, feet kicking up dust as they flew over the Middle Eastern terrain.  They had just seen Jesus alive, and so their feet, which had been as dead as Jesus was, were suddenly alive also, cracking with electricity.  This was not a Sunday morning jog while listening to Justin Bieber.  They weren’t trying to keep their target heart rate up or maintain 7 minute splits.  They had somewhere to go.  They were running.

Like I said, I hate to run.  But when I look at what I like to do in sports, clearly it’s not as simple as that.  Because I do like to run- in fact, I love it.  It just has to have a purpose- like to chase something.  I have to mark a man, get the the ball, execute a play, something, anything that is a motivator- I have to want it.  If you set me on a cross country course and say, ‘Run!’, forget about it.  I’m gone.  After 2 miles, with any luck, I’ll find a RedBox and that will be that.  But if its a soccer game and I’ve got to go get a ball 20 yards ahead of me and beat a guy to do it, it’s definitely going to happen.

I’m after that same sensation that the two Mary’s had on Easter morning.  They were propelled by a vibrant experience of the living God- they saw the empty tomb, the angel said ‘Go,’ and they were off.  Their running was directly related to Jesus’ resurrection- it had purpose, and so their running was free and joyful, no matter how far or hard the journey to Jerusalem was.  I’m sure they ran out of breath- the Gospels don’t say but I doubt these women looked like Jillian Michaels.  And their legs probably got tired too.  But I doubt they stopped much.  “Jesus is alive!!”, they probably kept telling themselves.  “It was REAL!”

Too often my soul-running more closely resembles the time I spent in my expensive running shoes.  It’s vague, purposeless, not driven by anything but habit.  I’m not careening with 100 volts of God’s realness in my legs.  I’m just out for another boring run.  I’m just trying to be obedient and on my best behavior, because its important to have good morals, and to read my Bible and a Christian book every night like a nice boy.  No wonder I’ve looked at God sometimes and said How much longer do I have to run for?  As long as I’m alive?  I’ll never make it.

In this way, Easter is a little bit about running.  Jesus’ resurrection took all of the moments that the Marys shared with him and framed them in the context of his God-ness.  They felt the full weight, probably for the first time, of knowing that they had experienced God- his love, his teaching, his goodness, his real-ness.  And so they ran to tell the others.

God is what turns our 3 mile death jogs into Mary-and-Mary free-for-all’s.  Without the experiential knowledge of his goodness, we won’t last long on the run.  We’ll get bored or discouraged and wonder why we’re even doing it at all.  But, like the women on Easter morning discovered, our dead lives and dead feet are no match for the reality of who God is, and who he is for us.

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