Lent – A good work out!

Published 10:00 pm Wednesday, February 10, 2016

“Keep yourself in training for a godly life. Physical training is of some value, but godliness has value for all things, holding promise for both the present life and the life to come.” (1 Timothy 4:7-8)

Well, I did it. On Sunday, Feb. 7 at 7 a.m. in Sarasota, Fla. I lined up with 3,000 other runners in the dark to run a half-marathon, a 13.1 mile race. A year ago I was talked into registering by our two daughters and daughter-in-law who live in Florida.

“It’ll be easy,” they said. “You’ve done it before, and besides you’ve got a year to get ready.” Easy enough for them to say. They’re more than a bit younger than I am. But I am the one who will be running it.

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I have run a few half marathons before. I love the distance, but always pay a price after I cross the finish line. This was no exception. The temperature in Sarasota was unseasonably 50 degrees with a wind of 25 miles per hour (yes, that’s right). Still I finished in 2 hours 28 minutes, much better than I expected.

It’s a strange feeling running 13.1 miles. The first mile or so is always a little slow. Like getting a car engine warmed up on a cold morning, it takes a while to get all the joints and muscles going.

But after a while I settled into a rhythm. It was a long race. Amazing how you get to know those who are running with you, even if it is only a temporary friendship, based more on the challenges of running, like the discomfort of the wind.

By mile seven with the wind at my back for a few miles I rediscovered the reason I started running to begin with some 35 years ago. The rhythm of the movement, the breathing, the sights and sounds, the feeling of lightness as my feet leave the ground.

It felt good, but it didn’t last. By mile ten I began to feel it. Muscles got sore, my legs ached, and my feet felt even flatter than they actually are. But even with the discomfort, the finish was thrilling, and more welcome than I can describe.

I remember when I started running. One cold windy day in February many years ago I was taking my usual two-mile walk. I was tired of dealing with the cold wind that seemed always to be blowing in my face no matter which direction I was going, and I decided that I would run the last half-mile.

Actually “run” is a generous descriptor for my awkward shuffle as I jogged down the road to the house, but it was the first step. It took months for me to get comfortable running even a few miles. And then there were the inevitable injuries and periods of rehab, occasional races, some more successful than others, and the drawer full of running shirts that runners seem to collect like family heirlooms. And friends made, and memories that I still cherish.

Why do I continue to run after 35 years? Running is a discipline. It provides a structure to my life. It helps me to become aware of things I would never otherwise see. Running brings me joy and satisfaction.

So I finished the race. And I could still walk afterward, and smile. I didn’t win any trophies, but that’s not why I run. I run because it awakens my soul. I like the feeling, the sounds and sights along the way, the rhythm of my pace, and even the challenges like wind and hills.

And it’s a healthy thing to do. Running has become not only a physical exercise, but also a time of spiritual renewal. It is amazing to me the insights I get as I run, and the issues that get “worked out” during a long run!

I know that many of you have your own disciplined habits. Some work out at the gym. Many walk, Still others run, bike, hike, swim, and do yoga, not to mention fishing and gardening. Some regularly practice music, work with wood, weave, and paint, write, and engage in numerous other art forms.

Whatever forms your practice or exercise might take, doing it regularly requires structure and discipline. Some days I have to almost push myself out the door when I run, especially when it is cold and rainy. And there are always setbacks and frustrations. But there are also moments of satisfaction, meaning, and joy—times that seem to make it all worthwhile.

Christian discipleship is similar. Discipleship is a practice. It’s no accident that Paul uses the image of athletic training to encourage his readers in spiritual practices such as prayer, study, or service.

And Lent is a time in the Christian year when people often place renewed emphasis on spiritual practices, in some ways like many of us make a renewed effort to go to the gym after the New Year. That’s one reason why the church celebrates the season of Lent.

But like running, or any other form of exercise, or any other practice, discipleship is something you have to do intentionally. To run you have to lace up the shoes and take the first step.

To pray, or study, or serve, or engage in a host of other good practices, you have to intentionally begin. Lent is a good time to begin. I hope you will join me in strengthening your practice of faith during this Lenten season. It’s like a good workout!

– Submitted by Dent Davis, Pastor, Tryon Presbyterian Church