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Posted by Jack Shitama ● Tue, Oct 01, 2013 @ 16:10 PM

Four Ways Running Is Like the Spiritual Disciplines

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Therefore, since we are surrounded by so great a cloud of witnesses, let us also lay aside every weight and the sin that clings so closely, and let us run with perseverance the race that is set before us…

Hebrews 12:1 (NRSV)

I’m a runner. I started about four years ago and it is now a part of who I am. I feel better and have more energy. It has also become a spiritual discipline for me. It’s a time for meditation when I feel connected to God. I gain clarity, perspective and discernment when I run. You might say it opens me to the Holy Spirit.

Of course, it’s the meditation, not the running that’s the spiritual discipline. And it’s just one of many that people practice. There’s prayer, reading scripture, fasting and giving, to name a few. But as I’ve reflected on how important running has become in my life, I’ve realized that there are a lot of similarities.

Here are four.

1. Focus on the Training and the Race will take care of itself

I love training for a race. There’s nothing like getting up and having a goal for the day, then hitting it. Sometimes the goal is distance, sometimes it’s speed, sometimes a combination of the two. I like participating in races, but they are actually kind of a hassle. Parking, crowds, race packets, etc., etc.

For me, the main purpose of a race is to give me daily training goals. By the time the race comes around, I’m either prepared or I’m not. Either way, I participate and do the best I can.

Spiritual disciplines are similar. You do them as a form of preparation for life. But with regular practice, they have meaning in and of themselves. They are a means by which we experience grace even as they give us greater capacity to love, show patience, extend mercy and forgiveness and sacrifice for the sake of others.

So for me, just as a day without running seems empty, a day without prayer and meditation just doesn’t feel right.

2. It takes time to build fitness

I used to hate running. It was early 2009 when I started walking on a treadmill. I got a little bored with the walking and starting alternating periods of walking with periods of running. Then I started running the whole time on the treadmill. Then I got bored with the treadmill and started running on the road. You get the idea.

The point is, I wasn’t doing all this to reach some kind of goal. At the time, I never even considered running in a race. What was happening was that my capacity was growing and I needed to live into it.

If you’re like me, you’ve had times in your life where you’ve tried to pray, read the bible, do devotions or practice some other spiritual discipline on a regular basis. How often did you lose momentum and stop altogether?

For me, more times than I can count.

On the other hand, when we keep at it, it gets easier. Even when we miss a day or two. After a while it gets to be so central to who we are that we need to live into it. The daily prayer time or reading a chapter of the bible or the family devotions becomes second nature. So much that if we miss a day or two we feel something is missing.

Spiritual fitness, like physical fitness, takes time to build. To coin a phrase, it’s a marathon, not a sprint.

3. You can lose fitness, too

If you stop running for a few days, then it gets harder to start again. The longer it goes, the harder it gets to restart. Eventually, you can lose the fitness gains that you’ve built up over time.

The good news is that you can actually go as long as two weeks of no running without losing significant aerobic capacity or muscle power. The longer you’ve been running on a regular basis, the closer to this two week threshold you can get, if you have to.

If you’ve built your spiritual fitness and you miss a day or two of spiritual disciplines you will feel it. But you will likely still sense a close connection with God. Like running, the longer you go without doing it, the harder it gets. But, like running, if you’ve been practicing spiritual disciplines for a long time, you likely can have a bad week or two and still get back into it.   

4. What works for others may or may not work for you

They say that your muscles are best for running in the afternoon. I like to run in the morning. For many people, running in a group gives them motivation and social connection. I like to run alone. What matters is what works.

Some people do devotions first thing in the morning. Others do them before bed. You get the point.

Don’t be afraid to experiment. If you try a spiritual discipline and it’s not working for you, try it at a different time, in a different place or in a different way. What matters is what will enable you to practice on a regular basis to build your spiritual fitness.

How’s your spiritual fitness? If you’re like me, there’s always work to do. But each new day brings the possibility to start doing something and to grow. God is with us.

Support Team Pecometh in the Baltimore Running Festival

Running is not for everyone, but it's one way those of us who love it raise money for Pecometh. Team Pecometh is running in the Baltimore Running Festival on October 18, 2014. Want to help, then go to our Team Pecometh 2014 page. Thanks!

Topics: Faith Formation, Spiritual Health