Sunday, November 3, 2013

Runner's Prayer

Coming up on mile 21 of the St. Louis Marathon, the wheels start to come off. I'm suffering. My eyes hurt from the sun, my knee is stiff, my neck aches.

Chad catches up to me. His stride looks smooth--too smooth for someone who'd just run 22 miles. "Hey," he says. "What are you shooting for today?"

"I was going for a 2:50, but my 'B' goal is sub-3," I say.

"Let's go get that sub-2:50," he says.

Chad weighed almost 200 pounds, but had completed several ultra-marathons. "I'm shooting for a 2:52," he said. "I was up until almost one AM celebrating the Cardinals' win."

Forest Park, hurting

I'm interested, as I'd woken at 12:30 AM, and slept poorly after that. My thoughts turn to the creaky floorboards of the Jones's apartment, when I'd tip-toed to the couch to read "The Yearling." I'd finally fallen asleep at two AM, and snuck a couple restless hours before our five AM departure to the public transit station.

"OK," I say. "I'll try."

Chad leads the way, cutting into the five mile-per-hour headwind through Forest Park. We pass Andy and Stephanie as we chat about Rochester, where Chad attended Catholic High School.

Chad and I
Our conversation meanders with the road, turns to the Boston Marathon. "It's sad," I say. "That's all I can say about it. People will try to explain it, but it's sad."

"There's evil in this world," he says. "Some of my friends don't believe in evil, they believe everything is kind of relative."

Some of my friends could have been hurt or killed in that blast. "I don't know how people couldn't believe in evil," I say. "Are you a believer?" I ask.

He is. We talk about faith, and suffering. Chad feels God through the suffering, he says. The ecstasy of finishing, the joy of the breeze chilling my cheeks, the sun so bright it hurts; sometimes I feel God's presence, but I'd never thought about the suffering until now.

God knows. The creator of the universe, who sees our days as grass, which wither away and are thrown into the fire, He knows. He knows what it means to suffer, to give up everything for people who don't love him, people who hate him, but who don't think he exists.

And in the joy of a personal record, in the pain of a cramp the last 200m of a forty-two kilometer race, he cares. Does he care who wins or loses? I doubt it. Has he ever had a hand in a professional or collegiate football game? I don't think so.

But running--he knows. In a letter to the church in Galatia (Galatians 5:7), Paul told the Galatians that they were running a good race. Running has been important since the ancients chased the wildebeests on the African savannas, and its illustrative purposes are nearly endless.

I haven't been to church in awhile, and I have a feeling I need to get there. Fortunately, I'm blessed with a Creator who knows me, knows I don't have any good excuses, knows how selfish I am, knows how much I need forgiveness, and knows when I'm too stubborn to ask for it.

Thankfully, it doesn't matter if I go to church tomorrow or not; because the church is not a place. It's a body of believers, and when I pray, when I ask God for forgiveness, He supplies it lavishly.

Does that mean I should keep messing up, keep skipping church, keep making selfish choices, so I can be forgiven even more? Nope. Because that would make grace cheap. It would make forgiveness something to take for granted

I can still go to sleep at night, every night, with a peace that passes understanding, because my salvation has been accomplished; it was taken care of over two-thousand years ago, when a God who could destroy every living creature with a flood, chose humility.

The Creator doesn't want puppets. God wants us to worship because we have a choice. When I look at the canvas of creation in yellows of birch, the brown of the oaks, every shade of orange, to the deep purple leaves of the sugar maple--my unbelief and my doubt melt away.

Chad is gone by now; I told him I couldn't talk anymore (amazing), and soon after he left me alone with my thoughts, alone with my suffering.

by myself

Chad finishes his race in 2:52, just like he said. He waits for me at the end, congratulating me for breaking three hours. I thank him, wondering if I'll ever see him again.

So as I pray when I run, my breath feels God's spirit, the wind, the light, the exhilaration of life. I'll be praying as I run tomorrow. I'll be thanking God for life, all 31 years of it. For my dad's successful surgery and the doctor's hands he guided. For my mom's servant heart; a teacher of three generations, taking a day off from teaching first grade to take care of my dad.

For my sisters, their kids, the husbands that take care of them and the parents that guide them.

Thank you to all my readers. This is a blog first and foremost about running, and I appreciate the patience people have reading my ramblings when I get somewhat off-topic.

Today I'll be (trying) celebrating my 31st birthday by running 31k. The first 5k or so will be a warm-up to the Chocoholic Frolic 10k, and the next 16k will be along the Mississippi River. It will be my third birthday run (2011, 2011 (second write up), 2012) in three years, and the first where I'm not feeling completely healthy (unless you count a kidney stone).

I'll pray that the knee holds up, because whether it does or it doesn't, I know someone's listening.

Happy Running!


Kelly said...

Great post Nate! Thanks for sharing. said...

I love how much running brings me closer to God.