I was attending a party at the end of my 8th grade year by the lake. Bound by the nervous energy of friendships, hormonally-charged social mores and constructs, I hit a boiling point and took off running. In no particular direction. No coach told me to go. No P.E. teacher told me to go. No bounds on how far or how fast. Freedom pulsed through my lungs and veins just as much as blood and oxygen. On that run, I claimed something for myself. I sliced through the breeze and glided over the pavement while admiring the lakescape. I was frustrated, yet free. The exertion released my thoughts and their filters, and for a few minutes I became whole.
I recorded that run over 28 years ago as my initiation into freedom. I couldn’t get enough, so I took up cross-country in high school. A bad idea with good intentions, the dictations of someone else’s program drained the joy of running, and my feet felt like cinder blocks with each step. I held on to hope of joy for 2 seasons. I hoped in vain, but gained in wisdom.
Though running breeds fitness, fitness is only a secondary benefit of running for me. As I traversed the divide between childhood’s exploration and adulthood’s construction, I learned that there were always reasons not to run. Some reasons were articulated by the culture, yet affirmed by my own demons.
Running is actually bad for you.
You don’t have enough time.
You’re too out of shape.
These other responsibilities are more important.
You’ve wasted your time on other things; do you think you’re entitled to 60 minutes of running?
What about the kids?
What if you get injured?
I run mental races against these questions (and others) everyday. I’m winning that race today.
Today I had my first 6+-mile run in over three years, it took me about an hour. An hour? Is there really time for that? There’s always plenty to do. My own mental processes created my last running desert; I can’t blame anyone else for the freedom that I choose not to embrace. Long commutes, health issues, and vocational roadblocks caused me to ignore the freedom that God has given me, lived out in one way through running. It’s always a matter of embracing the freedom rather than mourning the freedom that is supposedly not there. While staying at home with my daughters this summer over the most recent school break, I discovered that 12.5 laps around our circular driveway equaled one mile. The kids could play outside in the front yard while I ran laps. The freedom was there, I only had to look for it.
My chiropractor is the latest person to tell me I shouldn’t run. It’s not good for my body. She said I should bike and walk instead. I’m biking and walking a lot more now, but I’m also running more. There may be a time that I truly cannot run, and then I will have to find a new way to embrace my freedom. Today, I run. My freedom depends upon it.
Joe BW Smith is an ELCA pastor in Lakewood, WA. He walks with his wife, Melanie, bikes to his church (@stjohnslakewood), and runs all over his new hometown. Kendall and Ashling are the daughters who play out in the front yard and sometimes join him for a lap or two (aka The Smith Track on Foursquare). Joe blogs at www.youraveragepastor.blogspot.com and can be found on Twitter, @youravgpastor.