Alison Marie Smith

Life, Leadership & Spiritual Formation in Lonely Places

The Spirituality of Running

This week, I chose to run in the rain. Yep, it was voluntary.

shoesWhen I first started running, I visited a local store to ask some questions about running in wet weather. As I type this, I’m laughing at myself because I live in the high desert, rain is not exactly common. I can be a little bit obsessed about preparing for the unknown. The salesperson said, “You know, I love running in the rain. All I do is wear a hat to keep the water off my face and I’m fine!” I resisted the urge to roll my eyes and tell her I thought she was crazy.

Now I’m a convert. After running a few times in the rain, I too, love it. I ditched my music in favor of the organic sounds: plips, patters and claps. Quickly, the drips turned into a deluge. After five minutes, I was soaked. It was refreshing. As my feet squished inside my shoes, I began to reflect on how running has become a spiritual discipline in my life.

Variety & Discipline

Anyone who is a runner has learned the value of cross-training. Biking, swimming, strength training- these are what make a good runner great. When training for my half-marathon, I added miles at a healthy and consistent pace but I didn’t take cross-training seriously. When I remembered to cross-train, I occasionally attended a yoga class. I think I did a few push-ups. One time I might have done some squats.

A few weeks after the race, I began to experience persistent pain in my left hip. After a trip to the doctor and an assessment by a physical therapist, I discovered that the root of my pain was weak glutes. This contributed to an incorrect form, which caused the pain on my left side. I couldn’t sleep on my left side for several weeks. I had to cut back on running, losing stamina and strength. I accumulated some minor, but irritating, medical bills. And I have become the butt (this lame pun is intended) of several caboose-related jokes. Taking an undisciplined approach to running resulted in injury and other unpleasant consequences.

This is absolutely true of our spirituality. Disciplined cross-training is essential for a holistic spirituality. For example, if we only read the Bible but we never engage with Christian community, we miss out on an essential piece of our formation. We may have great knowledge and perhaps intimacy with God. But we lack accountability and we lose the perspective of others that may correct untrue ideas about God, his purposes, or his people.

In Invitation to a Journey, Robert Mulholland writes about our shadow sides, the undeveloped parts of our interior life.

The results of such one-sided spirituality can be devastating to our spiritual pilgrimage. The undernourished shadow side will, sooner or later, demand equal time. Not having any holistic spiritual patterns for its expression, it will usually manifest itself in “unspiritual” behaviors which are both antithetical to holistical spirituality and destructive to the spiritual activities of our preferred patterns. (p. 58)

We need variety and we need to be disciplined about it if we are to pursue a healthy spirituality.

Check out my Disciplines of the Week blog series to learn about new spiritual disciplines

Worship & Surrender

What I love most about running is that it has become an act of worship. I worship God when I run with my friend Mariah. We share our joys and hurts when we run together. We listen and offer support. We experience intimacy with God together through our friendship and shared activity. In a post about discipleship, I also discovered that running is a place of ministry with my students.

My awesome students & I

My awesome students & I

I worship God when I pray during my runs. One run was particularly meaningful. It was a cool March day; pain, conflict and anxiety plagued me for most of February and there was no end in sight. Earlier that day, I was asked to do something extremely stressful, probably emotionally painful, and maybe necessary. I didn’t want to do it and I expressed my concern to the person who asked me. As I was running, I was listening to music and talking with God about it.

Father, I don’t want to do this. It hurts. I don’t know if it will be helpful. And I am pretty angry about all of this. 

My pace quickened a little. I could feel myself channeling my frustrations and fear into my steps as they connected with the pavement. The music reached a peak. It was a gospel song, the worship leader sang with passion and intensity. As the music swelled, tears began to pool in my eyes. I knew what I had to say. 

But Father, I trust you. If this isn’t your will, then please make it go away. Make it not happen. But if this is your will, I will do it. I will walk into it with you. I will trust you.

In that brief prayer, something released inside of me. The tears flowed freely and God’s peace enveloped me like a cool breeze. In my physical activity, I was able to work through a hard situation with God and surrender my fear and anxiety. When I did eventually participate in what I was asked to do, I was able to enter it with peace and confidence that God was with me.

Running has become a place of community, sanctuary, healing and intimacy with God. Running is an act of worship.


 

This week, when you are doing an activity you love or even in a routine chore, practice looking for God in the midst of it. Bike riding? Ask God how he is present with you. Coffee with a friend? Invite God to join your conversation. Mowing the lawn or changing the oil in your car? Use a breath prayer to connect with him.

How have you connected with God through your everyday activities? Share your responses below.

2 Comments

  1. This article is so timely! Lately I’ve been wondering if God can really be glorified through my running, since so often, I use it as a time to clear my mind and think about my personal health/fitness. I’ve doubted whether or not it can be a spiritual discipline, but God has been showing me what it looks like to invite Him into this part of my life, and that it really can be a way of communing with Him. Just today, I had one of those runs which you described — talking to God about something worrisome, and then experiencing incredible comfort and peace in the physical release of running and trusting in God. Thanks for sharing this.

    • Thank you, Erica! I’m glad this article was helpful and I hope that you continue to connect with God through running! I think if we’re not careful, anything that we feel passionately about can turn into an idol that we worship above God. But I think if we invite God into our passion areas, it helps us to see it as something that connects us with him rather than something that could run the risk of replacing him. Thanks for taking the time to comment!

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