Alison Marie Smith

Life, Leadership & Spiritual Formation in Lonely Places

Running: An Unexpected Spiritual Discipline

Three years ago I would have told you that running just wasn’t for me. If I felt like being blunt, I actually would have said, “I hate running!” But something shifted. I was coming out of an intense season of transition and I was filled with complex, unprocessed emotions. The only thing that seemed to help was physical activity, mainly walking in the nature area near our house. Pairing physical activity with prayer helped me to be honest with God in a way I had not experienced before. Rather than venting, it was constructive and cathartic.

What? Isn't this how you do yoga? Workin' on my night cheese...

What? Isn’t this how you do yoga? Workin’ on my night cheese…

At some point, I got the idea that maybe I should run a 5k. I’d never run further than a mile- at that time I was more of a lay on the couch and binge watch 30 Rock yoga person. In my past attempts at running, I would just do it and then feel horrible- I had no foundation. I needed a plan, something to keep me accountable and on track. I chose a free weekly schedule that progressed from walking to running (Thank you Runner’s World!). The plan instructed you to alternate running and walking, slowly increasing your running time. By the end of 8 weeks, you would be able to run for 20 minutes. The plan urged you not to increase too quickly; if you really wanted to be a runner you had to be patient with your body.

It was often boring and tedious, patiently sticking to this plan. There were many times, especially when I was tasked with running 10 minutes, resting for 1, and then running another 10, that I wanted to fudge. Walking for that 1 minute felt like torture. But the plan worked. Finally, my breathing and heart rate could sustain running for 20 minutes! And better yet, my muscles were less sore after my runs. A few months later I ran my first 5k. And a few years later, I ran my first half marathon.

My friend Mariah & I at the 2014 SLC Half Marathon. We did it!

My friend Mariah & I at the 2014 SLC Half Marathon. We did it!

Running is a discipline that is hard, tedious, and sometimes boring. But it is also a discipline that is fun, cathartic, freeing, and refreshing. By now you’re probably able to see how this connects to our relationship with God. You’ve probably experienced the joy, freedom and life that comes from a relationship with God. But if we’re honest, we know that, like running, our relationship with God can be hard, tedious and sometimes boring.

How do we deal with seasons of blandness in our spirituality? I think my experience with running speaks to this. Like with our bodies, we have to be patient with the way we interact with God and how he is interacting with us. We have to keep putting aside intentional time, trusting that God is working in us, even when we can’t see it. We have to stick to our plan, even when it gets tough. Paul knew all about this:

Do you not know that in a race all the runners run, but only one gets the prize? Run in such a way as to get the prize. Everyone who competes in the games goes into strict training. They do it to get a crown that will not last, but we do it to get a crown that will last forever.” (1 Corinthians 9:24-26, NIV)

But what if after exerting discipline and self-control, the blandness persists? In running, cross training is crucial to building endurance and preventing injuries. Sometimes seasons of blandness can be an indication that we need some cross training in our relationship with God. Maybe we need to try a new way to pray or a different approach to reading the Bible. (For some ideas, check out “Spiritual Disciplines Handbook” by Adele Ahlberg Calhoun)

Running has been a gift to me. God has used it to teach me about myself- my ability to achieve things I never thought possible as well as my limitations (sometime I’ll write about how shin splints recently took over my life). And he has used it to teach me about him- how he is the perfect example of perseverance and faithfulness.

What has been an unexpected way that God has connected with you? What did you learn about yourself? What did you learn about God?


    • Thank you, Jill! I visited your site, oh my gosh I love it so much. I totally saw some runners in jeans during my half marathon, next time I’ll take a pic!

      • Yes! Pictures are welcomed…greatly.

        And if you love this site, you are a bit warped. 😉 thanks for stopping by and commenting.

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