In high school, I used to love running. I'd lace up my tennis shoes and go for runs through the neighborhood, and I'd even worked my way up to running some 5K races. But once I started college classes, I put running on the back burner. After all, between papers and research, who had time for even a quick jog?
When I graduated from college, I was excited to finally be able to have time to work on my running again. After we moved to our new apartment, I scouted out good running routes and dusted off my tennis shoes. I put an app on my phone to help track my miles and time and I was ready to go.
Or I thought I was ready to go.
Instead of sprinting away like I used to be able to, I found myself huffing and puffing after just under a minute of running. What was going on? I used to love running, but I walked back home that day angry at myself for not being able to run the same way I did in high school.
After I cooled down, I realized that getting back into running could help me exercise my physical muscles, but it also held lessons for helping me stretch my spiritual muscles; it's going to take some time.
We live in a world that loves things that are instant. You can press a couple of buttons on the microwave and have instant macaroni and cheese. You can log onto social media and make instant friends with the click of a mouse. If you turn on the television, you're greeted with instant entertainment. So in some ways, it wasn't a surprise that, after being surrounded by all of the instant gratification our world has to offer, I was shocked when training to run again took time and effort.
But running isn't the only thing that is going to take time and sincerity. Building a relationship with God can take time too - there are no instants when it comes to investing in a friendship with Him.
Father Jacques Philippe, in his book Time for God, says: "If mental prayer is that of poor quality but is regular and faithful, it is worth more than prayer that is sublime but only now and then. It is faithfulness alone that enables the life of prayer to bear wonderful fruit."
If I'm running short on time - no pun intended - it's better to get in a quick run than to skip a day and make up for it tomorrow. Without consistency and perseverance, my running time would never improve. What if I were to look at my prayer life the same way? Instead of not praying because I don't think I have time, it would be better to pour myself into a sincere gift of time I set aside for God.
As I've exercised to get back into running like I used to be able to, I've been encouraged by friends, family and fellow runners to help. Online forums offer great advice on what shoes to wear, what stretches to do, and how to eat better to become fitter.
We're not alone in our spiritual run, either. Hebrews 12:1-3 says, "Therefore, since we are surrounded by such a great cloud of witnesses, let us throw off everything that hinders and the sin that so easily entangles. And let us run with perseverance the race marked out for us, fixing our eyes on Jesus, the pioneer and perfecter of faith. For the joy set before him he endured the cross, scorning its shame, and sat down at the right hand of the throne of God. Consider him who endured such opposition from sinners, so that you will not grow weary and lose heart."
Hebrews speaks of a great cloud of witnesses that have ran the path before us. The saints offer incredible wisdom on how to achieve the ultimate prize of Heaven. Christ Himself also has endured so much for our sake so that we can say we have a God who knows what it means to suffer. We can turn to Him for help, advice, and strength when the running (physical or spiritual!) gets hard.
Putting in the time and miles in our faith life isn't going to be easy. But when we cross the finish line of Heaven and get to enjoy the fruits of striving towards Christ, it will be oh-so worth it.