I’ve made many short-lived attempts at running over the years, but it was not until this year that my running habit finally stuck. The need to counterbalance the effects of middle-age pressed me to keep at it, and I have probably run more miles in the last ten months than in the last ten years. (That is more a sad commentary on the last ten years than the miles I log in a week).
As this habit took hold, however, I discovered a reward greater than the health benefits: I found a time of solitude. On my run I can set aside the concerns of life for a little while. I leave the phone behind, and it is just me, the breath in my lungs, and the route ahead. Everything else can wait.
As I settle into the rhythm and my mind clears, it can become a rare undistracted moment to listen for God’s voice. Of course, I have many days when my cares chase after me and the running is an ordinary activity that adds some exercise to my daily routine. But there are also the better days when this ordinary activity becomes a metaphor for faith that I participate in mind, body and spirit. When my mind is quiet enough to hear him, I feel God will guide my thoughts and speak to me when I’m out on a run.
On one occasion, I feel God had a lesson for me about the endurance often required to live life as a follower of Christ. Paul uses the image of running several times in scripture. In Hebrews 12:1, he writes that being a follower of Christ will often require great endurance, like an athlete competing in a race. As a new runner, there are many times in the last year that I have thought about endurance.
Once I was running along a rather mundane leg of my regular route through Beverly. It was a beautiful late-autumn day. The air was crisp and cool, and the blue sky was above me. I turned a corner and crested a hill to look out at the happy, sparkling bay. A gust of wind blew up behind me and I felt like I could run twice as fast, for twice as long. I was bursting with enthusiasm and increased my pace. This is what it feels like to have the Holy Spirit empowering my life, I thought.
Another day shortly after, I ran the same route. It was a horrid late-autumn day. The temperature had dropped below freezing. My mood mirrored the steely sky as I stomped through icy puddles and sleet bit at my face. As I turned the same corner and crested the hill, the headwind redoubled across the open bay. I felt like I was running half my pace and thought about giving up many times during the final miles.
But I carried on, putting one step in front of the next, finishing one stretch at a time, and eventually made it back home. Somehow I managed the endurance to finish the route. This too is what it feels like to have the Holy Spirit empowering my life, I realized. God corrected my thinking and refreshed my attitude about how the Holy Spirit is working in my life on that second day.
The Holy Spirit is always with me, empowering me to live the life of faith. He will always be faithful to supply the strength to endure and carry on.
When all is well and I am bursting with joy on those effortless days of life when all falls into place, he is with me. When the stress and strain of life come storming through my day and I feel like all I can do is grit my teeth and carry on, he is with me all the same.
The Holy Spirit is always the wind at my back, whether I feel it or not.
Matthew serves at CTR on the Facilities and Building Maintenance Team, and is a newly-initiated chalice bearer. You may occasionally come across him in line serving food at the Sunday lunches. In addition to running, he enjoys the outdoors in all seasons, a good game of backgammon, and leafing through atlases. Matthew attends the 11 a.m. service with his wife, Kirsten, and their children, Madeleine and Jack.