The Reason I Run.
My decision to become an intern with Campus to City Wesley a little over a year ago was a response to a conviction that beat and pulsed heart-like. The burgeoning reality of my essential vocational calling to be a witness to God’s love in the world required that I make a tangible movement of faith. By grace, I was invited to join the CCW team and by grace I was stirred to accept.
It is not insignificant that a few months after joining the program, I spiritually broke down. Following my outward declaration of faith, an abyssal anxiety yawned awake. My collapse was caused by spiritual insecurity, fueled by inner turmoil, and catalyzed by school and work. During this time, I struggled immensely with negative self-talk. Voices came up out of the deep yawning chasm and told me that I am worthless and have nothing to offer; that I am dumb, lazy, and selfish. They convinced me that I was essentially and inherently unlovable. And I listened.
The voices are caustically seductive. By gesturing broadly at my life, they seduced me into listening to them. They supported their claims by reminding me of the relationship that I neglected, the paper I didn’t write, and the friend I upset. They whispered of the despair in the world. They convinced me that I was pitiable, then told me that I should loathe myself for being pitiable.My negative self-talk prodded me into a cyclical and solipsistic self-damnation.
While I spiraled into myself, it seemed that God was absent. Because I could not see or hear or feel beyond my deluded sense of self, I could not see or hear or feel God. The voices had done their job. They named me by my fear.
A professor and a friend both advised that I plop myself down on a big brown therapeutic couch and Talk To Somebody. My folks agreed and so I did. One thing the authoritative therapeutic figure prescribed I do was to “go for a run every now and then.”
The thing about running: it hurts.
The beginning, the middle, the end–all of it hurts. Additionally, on every run I’ve ever plodded through I’ve been accompanied by the voices. The moment I put one foot in front of the other, whispers reverberate against the walls of my head space that this run in particular is going to end badly. The cerebral reverberations distracted me from the fact that no single step is unendurable by incessantly reminding me of all the steps to come. The projected future of my run, the thought of all the steps lined up in front of each other, each single thud of foot against the ground full of impact and hurt–this is what is unendurable about running. The thinking about it, what my head is capable of making it all.
When I first started running, I tried to choose to not listen, to ignore and repress the fear in all the steps to come. This did not work. Because I was running from the fear rather than with it, the voices would inevitably overwhelm. To stop running running involves a decision, a choice. I would implode.
But I kept running.
Let the record show that I did not continue to run because I enjoyed it. Failing is not fun, nor is pain; however, I paradoxically looked forward to each run knowing full well that it would hurt and that the voices would tag along. There’s something about running that is a lot like life, and I began to look forward to each run as a sort of dress rehearsal.
The thing about continuing to run: you get stronger.
There’s a strong correlation between my becoming a stronger runner and my willingness to face, rather than ignore, the anxieties that surface during each run. I’ve seen and heard the voices over and over again. I know their worth, the truths they tell, and more importantly, their lies. Running has taught me to name my fears, not be named by them. Once named, the voices are powerless.
An apt metaphor: the spiritual life is a journey
An analogy can be drawn between running and the spiritual life. Both are journeys, and both are difficult in all of the ways that journeying is difficult. As a Christ follower, I’m a beginner. When I joined CCW, I was overwhelmed by the voices of spiritual fear in the same way that a new runner is overwhelmed by the steps to come. The voices named me because I had not faced them.
A runner becomes a stronger runner by running. The inner spiritual life is made more mature by continually living into, and thus deepening, the pulsing heart-like conviction that God’s love for you is enough, that you are in safe hands, that you are being guided every step of the way.
A strong runner finds joy and freedom in the difficulty of pushing the pace, increasing the mileage, and facing deeper hurts and fears. The fruits enjoyed at the completion of a hard run are sweeter. As I continue to follow Christ, I know that new anxieties will surface and more seductive voices will whisper. As I continue to follow Christ and my outward journey of faith takes me farther, I know that I will need to deepen the knowledge of God’s Love in my heart. And as I continue to follow Christ, I know that I will experience new joy, new peace, and new love. I know I will be able to name the voices of fear because of Christ’s abundant love for me.