Being Still: Running with Endurance
How are we supposed to “run with endurance the race God has set before us,” (Heb.12:1), while also remembering to “be still and know that He is God” (Psalm 46:10, paraphrased)?
This is a question that has been occupying my thoughts for the last few weeks as I have been training for a half marathon, while also starting classes again, working full-time, pursuing photography, and being a wife and mother of two little humans. I have found it nearly impossible to sit still lately. Even when I do have my quiet bible time in the morning, I make sure I throw a load of laundry in before I sit down so that, at least I am checking something off the list while I sit in “stillness.” It occurs to me of course, the irony of this … while I may be sitting physically still, my mind rarely follows suit. For me to sit still, I feel compelled to be accomplishing something.
I’ve always thought of sleep as a waste of time for this reason … I’ve never been one to nap, even when my kids were newborns. It just seems like there is always something that needs to get done. While I understand the sentiment of sweet videos on Instagram that say, “The laundry can wait,” or “The dishes will still be there tomorrow,” I often find myself thinking, “Wait for who?! What are we wearing and eating while we soak up all of these precious memories?”
I heard someone once say, “You were not created to be a human doing, but rather a human being.” That stuck with me.
I feel like I spend so much of my life doing, that the simplicity of being seems … well … too simple. It always seems nice, when someone reminds me to be still, and sometimes it does help for a day or two … but then my inbox fills up, my family continues to wear clothes (how dare they) and the laundry is overflowing … and, oh, they want to eat AGAIN (didn’t they just eat 3 hours ago?) … While my schedule is full, I’ve spoken with enough friends to know that it’s not abnormally full, and so I am positive I can’t be the only one struggling with the balance of “being still” and “running with endurance.”
Endurance sports have been my go-to since I was 7 years old. I was never coordinated enough to make it onto any of the teams that required tryouts, so I chose to join the team that was just happy to have people show up at all – cross-country running! Even at 7 years old, I had a deep appreciation for the simplicity of running … as the great philosophers at Nike once said, you “just do it.”
Over the years, the running distances became increasingly longer, and I continued to be incredibly slow. I have so many memories of the race marshals cleaning up the race markers behind me as I ran (they were walking, by the way), because I was always last place. I didn’t care.
One time, only 9 girls were registered for the race, and I was so excited because it meant that I was coming home with a 9th-place ribbon! (And yes, I proudly toted that ribbon to school the next day, never mentioning that 9th place was also last place. Details, details.)
In high school, I was awarded the “all heart” trophy for my participation on the Cross Country team. I’ve been in sports long enough to know that an “all heart” award is akin to a participation award … but hey, it was shiny and had my name engraved, so I proudly took it home and displayed it on my wall, right next to my 9th place ribbon from years earlier.
As I sit here reflecting, 25 years after beginning my running journey and days away from running my first half-marathon, I can’t help but think that an “all heart” award might be more encompassing of what it means to be an endurance athlete than anything else. This kind of award is given to the team-mate who never gave up, who tried their best, and who boosted overall team morale with a good attitude. They save the “MVP” awards for the kids who actually earned the school some points. At the time when I received the award, I thought of it as a bit of a consolation prize, a “pat on the head,” a “thanks for trying kid,” award … but now that I think of it, I have a feeling that being “all heart” is the key to endurance.
It’s easy to do something when you’re naturally inclined towards it. You actually need very little heart when something comes easily to you. Many of my teammates were tall, lanky, and natural runners. I always thought of them as gazelles, and me, like a cocker spaniel. The majority of them were using cross country as a way to train for the other sports they were a part of (whereas this was it for me). They were naturally good at this … it’s not to say they didn’t work hard – they did, and they were an inspiration to me. But they didn’t have to fight to keep up the way I did.
Running the Good Race
So, what does endurance running have to do with our relationship with God? I think it’s important to note that we have not been asked to do only intervals with God … we’ve been invited into a long-distance run, where the prize is Jesus Himself. I think that’s what Paul means when he says,
“I press on toward the goal to win the prize for which God has called me heavenward in Christ Jesus.” (Philippians 3:14).
A good long-distance runner will tell you that they have a training plan. When they’re training for a long run, they have everything planned down to the day. Over my years of running, especially as I’ve been preparing for this half-marathon in a few days, I have discovered a few parallels between training for a long race and our faith journeys:
1) Fill up on the good stuff
As a runner, this means taking my vitamins, staying hydrated, and eating enough protein and carbs to keep me going. As a believer, this means inviting the Holy Spirit to fill me afresh each day and spending time reading my Bible, asking the Lord to speak to me.
2) Take breaks
I used to think taking days off of exercise was for lazy people … until I discovered that my performance after a day away was increasingly better than if I’d had no rest at all. Rest allows us to work hard when it’s time to work because we know we have a break coming up. It also allows our muscles to heal and helps to prevent injuries. If we never take time to rest, we are prone to falling, injuring ourselves, feeling hopeless, and maybe even growing so weary that we feel like giving up. The same is true in our relationships with God – He knows the limitations of our bodies, and when we rest, we are telling Him that we trust Him with our lives.
3) Do your hill sprints
Most endurance athletes hate sprinting (hence their choice of a long-distance sport), but most of them will also tell you it makes you stronger in the long run (literally). Training on a hill and pushing yourself to sprint up it as fast as you can increases your strength and trains your body to handle hills better in the future.
In the same way, there are times in our lives when it just feels really hard … it feels like we are running up a hill and we aren’t even sure if we are moving forward at all. There seems to be very little time for rest, and it seems like it’s one thing after another, and every step seems impossible. The idea of “being still” seems laughable when you’re in this stage because you have so much pressure to move forward, but it feels like you’re being still out of panic, freezing under pressure.
To this I say, there’s a reason we call this sprint training. This kind of pressure can’t be managed for too long. It is okay to have seasons of intense pressure and to buckle down and do what needs doing, but it is not sustainable. When I am running long hills, I find it best to look at the ground – take one step at a time, and turn inwards. I ask God to calm my breathing, and I just take the next step. If you’re in a season of life where literally “being still” isn’t an option for you, maybe give this a go … stare at the ground (literal or metaphorical) and just do the next step. Take a deep breath, and ask God to give you His peace that surpasses all understanding (Philippians 4:7). You may still be facing a mountain, but you are not responsible for taking it on alone.
4) Have people in your corner
While running may be an individual sport, there’s something so amazing about having friends around you who like to run too. I had never considered running a half-marathon until I found out that Pastor Cory, his wife/my friend, Kristina, AND Pastor Carter, were all running half-marathons this fall … It took Pastor Cory egging me on to see if I could run faster than Pastor Carter that got me to sign up for the race. (By the time you read this, we will have all run our races, so you can ask us who won, haha!)
Somehow I think a healthy level of competition is a good thing for every athlete. As long as you aren’t hanging your worth as an individual on whether you win or lose, it can feel a lot like “iron sharpening iron” (Proverbs 27:17, paraphrased). We trade tips, make training plans, and encourage each other after our runs!
In the same way, it’s SO important to have teammates around you in your journey with Jesus. In life, there will be times when you are overwhelmed, tired, even feeling like giving up, and you will NEED your teammates to come around you, pray with you, and support you on your journey. Instead of training plans, you can swap stories about what God is doing, pray for each other, and share bible reading plans or things you’ve learned about God lately. A Christian community is incredibly important when it comes to chasing after Jesus for the long haul.
5) Make a plan
As the half-marathon got closer and closer, I started putting my long runs into the shared family calendar so that we could plan for it. I needed to know it would happen, and make it a priority. The same is true for your walk with God. If something is important to you, make it a priority. Plan your daily time with Him. Commit to finding a few hours to be still (even if it’s not as often as you’d like at first).
6) Keep your eyes open
To run well, you need to make sure you keep your eyes on the prize, but are also aware of your surroundings. During a race, I am usually thinking about that finish line, but I also have to keep my eyes open and make sure I am aware of others around me. I don’t want to be so focused on the finish line that I crash into someone or something. There are always onlookers for races or people who are watching you run. The same is true for life … there are always people watching you run this race … so run it well. Honour God and honour people in the process.
So, after all this talk about running, you may be wondering where the stillness part comes into it. The reality is, stillness is a critical part of an endurance sport. Recovery is just as important as the effort. Maybe you’re in a season of life (like me), where sitting still feels impossible, and that’s okay. The last thing you need to do is add a layer of guilt on top of everything else you’re carrying. But here’s a challenge for you and me today … Look at your calendar and find a space where you CAN be physically still. Block off that time, and commit to it. Even if it’s only a couple hours every few months. Trust that God means it when He says,
“I will give you rest … I am gentle and humble in heart, and you will find rest for your souls.” (Matthew 11:28, 30)
I recently read this verse,
“You will seek me and find me when you seek me with all your heart.” (Jeremiah 29:13)
and it reminded me of that “all heart” trophy I once won. As I reflect, it seems to me that being all-heart matters much more to God than being the fastest or the best-performing athlete. As we “run with endurance the race God has set before us,” (Heb.12:1), we need to remember that being still is a part of the process. In case no one has told you today, it’s okay for you to rest in His presence. It’s not selfish. It’s not a waste of time.
It’s a part of the process, so trust it, trust Him, and just do it.
Written by Rosalind Coben, the Online Campus Associate Pastor. Let’s continue running the race God has given us, together!
You may also be interested in …