The following post is by Spirited Life pastor Matt Smith, who serves as the Associate Pastor at Guilford College United Methodist Church in Greensboro, where he paces himself on runs of moderate distances. A version of this story appeared in the Crossroads Chronicle.
In each of the last three years, I have run in Western Carolina University’s Valley of the Lilies Half-Marathon. This year, for the first time, I wasn’t able to run that whole distance. On a seemingly endless hill, my calves got as tight as bowstrings, and I was forced to walk the last two miles. It may have been because I started too quickly or because I ate too little or (more likely) due to my inadequate training. I was disappointed, but my disappointment didn’t last long.
Having never walked much on Western’s campus, I had never realized how beautiful it is. I learned why the event is called “Valley of the Lilies” as I enjoyed the hundreds of white and yellow blooms lining the path. I encouraged the other runners as they passed me. I savored an energy bar. My feet were no longer racing, but my mind was. As someone who was gearing up for a new appointment, I thought about how it felt like my best running in this area is behind me.
My mild disappointment at my performance lead me to question other areas of my life where my efforts come in fits and spurts. In terms of my health: wouldn’t it be better for my health to commit to running three miles every other day throughout the year, rather than gearing up for such a long run annually? In terms of my motivations: in running so far this one day, was I just trying to prove something to myself or to others?
In terms of my work: hadn’t some of my most heroic efforts to do something novel and exciting fallen flat? In terms of discipleship: is it better to read a whole book of the Bible in one sitting or read a chapter every day? Maybe that’s why Eugene Peterson calls discipleship “a long obedience in the same direction.”
In a funny way, facing the answers to these questions wasn’t demoralizing but freeing. I beamed as I crossed the finish line, having been reminded that my worth doesn’t lie in my pushing myself to my limits or beyond them. It’s not our backbreaking toil, after all, but abiding in Jesus that enables us to bear great fruit.
Image by flickr user Jason A. Samfield, via Creative Commons.