When you’re doing something difficult over a long period of time, it’s almost instinctive to break it down into more manageable chunks. Running a race, for example, becomes not just a physical endurance feat, but a mathematical one…
“Alright, so 26.2 miles—well that’s just a couple of half marathons; hard but not impossible. In fact it’s only a couple of 10ks and then a handful of 5ks—I can totally do that… I mean really: it’s a 3-mile warm up, then a 10k (and that bit’s mostly downhill, so that’s alright), and then I’ll have to dig in for a bit and do a ten-mile stretch, but I ran ten miles all the time during training, so that’s fine, and then, well it’s only seven miles to go! That’s a 10k and a cool down mile!”
Believe it or not, this is pretty much word for word the kind of thing you hear long-distance runners say to each other all the time, and I found myself having a similar internal conversation in July this year, when I ran my first ever marathon.
I’ve been running since May 2014. The process leading up to my first ever encounter with a pair of trainers and some tarmac started long before that, in early 2006, when God gently began to speak to me about self-discipline, and asserting some control over my body. It’s a long story, but in a nutshell, He showed me that it’s possible to shut down the noise of what my body says it wants and doesn’t want, and what it can or can’t do.
I was not who I thought I was. I was designed by God to do incredible things, and some of those things involved Lycra and sweat-wicking fabrics.
I began running at His gentle prompting (just as He’d gently prompted me over the previous eight years to consider swimming, walking, cycling, spending most of my leisure time outside, taking up core-strengthening gym classes, and changing how and what I ate).
I was, once again, outside my comfort zone. Running is difficult. It means quite a lot of bouncing and joggling (even with very good underwear; my personal recommendation is the unbeatable Shock Absorber Ultimate Run Bra), it hurts your lungs, and when your cardio capacity has developed enough that your lungs stop hurting, it starts to hammer your legs and feet. You get blisters (again, good underwear helps: Injinji individual toe socks are good for long runs), callouses, corns, running rash from sweaty bits of your body rubbing together, and a variety of scrapes and bruises from the occasional fall.
Have I won you over yet?!
Running is brilliant. It means moving your body in a way you rarely otherwise do; it gets you out and about in your neighbourhood, discovering roads and places you never normally notice; it sends you into the wilds, along routes that are beautiful and breath-taking. Running, you cover more ground than you ever would on foot, and in a way you never could in a car. Running clears your mind, gives you solitude and space to think and pray. Your heart gets stronger. You have more energy, and you spontaneously begin to do things you might not have considered before: taking the stairs rather than the lift, running up the stairs rather than walking, taking the kids out to the countryside on a Saturday, using your bike not the car for an errand, saying yes to a work or church sports activity, maybe even signing up for a race…
God showed me, over many years, that I had thought of myself one way, and He saw me quite differently. I had decided that I was a ‘non-sporty’ person. This sub-conscious (and false) category had been part of my identity all my life, woven together through messages heard from my parents, school and school friends, the media, and my own frightened-to-fail inner voice. You are who you are, and you can’t change it.
Except that you can. We are designed to be like Him, made in His image, to live life in all its fullness. Bit by bit, I began to discover that when we hear the truth, and reaffirm that truth by expressing it and taking steps to live in it, we are set free to transform.
In Numbers 33, we see Moses—at the Lord’s direction—record the stages of Israel’s journey. There have been years of walking with God on my journey, setting out from a place called ‘I Can’t’. He has taken me through ‘Give Up Wine For A Couple Of Months’, then onto ‘Join A Gym’. We stayed there for a few years, and then one day progressed to ‘Take Up Pilates’, which led us to ‘Try Road-Running’. After some time there, He kindly and powerfully brought me to ‘Change How I Eat’, and eventually, ‘Change What I Eat’. And at every stage, God has used the platform of physical change to lever a spiritual elevation too, as I’ve taken ground on major identity shifts.
I’ve lived in a land of strength and power over my body for over a decade now. It isn’t always easy; good habits take time and determination to secure, and unfortunately they can be eroded quite quickly! Discipline is a continual set of good choices, which you can make easier by designing your environment to facilitate those good choices.
I work from home and rarely have in-person client meetings, so I put on my running clothes every morning. When I’ve run (at 6.30am, or 9.30am, or midday, or just before school pickup, or after dinner… you get the idea) I shower and get dressed into other clothes. This does sometimes mean changing straight into my pyjamas, but who’s complaining?!
I have a house full of teenagers, plus some younger kids with hollow legs, so there are usually a fair few packets of crisps and biscuits knocking around. I buy the kind that I don’t like, so I don’t feel tempted to graze on junk all day. (Let’s revisit the issue of feeding my kids junk on another occasion, okay?)
I give myself artificial goals with real life accountability to stay on target—maybe a race, or a regular running date with a friend, joining a group challenge, or working on a Personal Best time for a distance. I track my progress with a kind heart. Life is full, busy and with much to balance, so if I have a month when I didn’t progress as much as I hoped, I don’t beat myself up about it—just note it and figure out how to do better next time.
I can trace the road from February 2006 to that marathon start line. I’ve tracked the journey. The growth mindset God has developed in me through fitness and exercise has re-scripted many other parts of my life. I no longer self-exclude from expecting wisdom, prophetic sight, leadership, and intimacy with the Father because I assume it’s reserved for others (whom I suppose to be holier or more disciplined). I can make a declaration of Holy Spirit-partnership self-control and see that worked out in a clear mind, a strong body and a bold spirit.
If you are living in ‘I Can’t’, hear God’s gentle entreaty to go on a journey with Him—He has some amazing places to take you. (And you may find your travelling clothes are made of Lycra!)
I praise you because I am fearfully and wonderfully made; your works are wonderful, I know that full well.
Psalm 139: 14
At the Lord’s command Moses recorded the stages in their journey.