The streets in my neighborhood are hilly, winding around black oaks and horse pasture. In the coolness of the early morning, before the dew has evaporated, the birds cheerfully sing their praises without interruption. My feet slap the pavement, rocking right off again, rhythmically pounding the asphalt. Burning lungs, dried tongue, sticky sweat, calves aching.
Why? There are other ways to stay in shape. Ways much easier, not so taxing, even ways that you won’t sweat. Why run?
I’m not a runner. I ran in junior high, forced to walk or run 2 miles at least once a week. Nearly all of my friends walked and talked. But then there was that group in the front of the pack, on their way back to the locker room before we even reached the turning around point. Something made me want to join them, and I did. By the end of the school year, I was once of the first 5 girls to finish. I had such a sense of accomplishment that when the gym teacher suggested the cross-country team to me, I joined. My skills were mediocre at best – I never won a race, or even came close to winning. But I still got the wind blowing against my face, the transport to a timeless place, and of course, a runner’s high.
Just last week I started running again, 20 years later. Now it is a mission. I’m driven, passionate about reaching the finish line, focused on each tiny step that will eventually get me there. I can only run if I focus on how I’m moving right now. If I look at the enormous hill in fromt of me, I talk myself out of trying to reach the top. It’s too hard! I’ll never make it. Maybe next time I’ll go for it. But Paul tells us how to run – “proclaim the word; be persistent whether it is convenient or inconvenient; convince, reprimand, encourage through all patience and teaching…. I have competed well; I have finished the race; I have kept the faith. From now on the crown of righteousness awaits me, which the Lord, the just judge, will award to me on that day,and not only to me, but to all who have longed for his appearance.” (2 Timothy 4:2,7-8)
Completing a run is satisfying. The run itself can be excrutiating. But you can’t have the satisfaction of completing the run without first trying. Why do it? I do it to stay healthy, physically and emotionally, for myself and my family. It is hard, but also well worth it.
Who said this life would be easy to run? We could go through life on the easy path – many do. But the greatest reward comes from the hardest run, which can translate into suffering. Suffering should be expected and welcomed. “Pain and suffering have come into your life, but remember pain, sorrow, suffering are but the kiss of Jesus – a sign that you have come so close to Him that He can kiss you.” – Blessed Mother Teresa
I’m not saying that the difficulty of trying to run up a hill is like a kiss from Jesus, but if I can make it up a simple hill, maybe I can face the more serious sufferings of life. It is good for us to add some suffering to our life, to temper us, to prepare us. However, if I try to make everything easy and carefree, if I talk myself out of tackling the hill, when suffering inevitably comes, I won’t be able to handle it. Each step up the hill, each moment of pain, can bring us closer to the joy of reaching our ultimate destination.
“We Love God Only in the measure that we are willing to suffer.” – Servant of God Fr. John Hardon