An Easter Week Reflection on Faith and Running
It is no secret that physical fitness and talent are only half of what it takes for an athlete to excel in their sport, and it is often claimed that the other half is the athlete’s mental focus and toughness. This way of thinking seems right, but there is more to an athlete’s excellence than mere physical strength and mental fortitude.
From firsthand experience, I can tell you what it’s like to be at peak fitness and mental preparedness with great confidence — ready to hurt — only to completely fall apart when it matters most. There is no worse agony than a poor finish without any understanding of why you failed.
After failure followed by failure, I was left wondering why I couldn’t have accomplished something great on my own. I felt so prepared, so what was missing?
“Walk by faith and not by sight.”
The Apostle Paul wrote these words to the people of Corinth. Settled right between Sparta and Athens, the Corinthians were known to be capable, rivaling Sparta’s physical prowess and Athens’ wisdom. But Paul noticed what was missing — the Corinithians’ faith was in themselves, and in the end it was holding them back. They had lost sight of their purpose.
It was after reading those words that I felt a change.
I had competency as a runner, talent, disciple, and fortitude to overcome challenges, but I was lacking faith, my purpose for why I am so dedicated to my sport. So, when the race began to hurt it wasn’t my body that let me down, not my toughness or desire to win, but doubt. I had nothing within me to push the doubt away that slowly tore down what I thought was unstoppable confidence.
Running by nature is hard. As runners we share in common a tremendous amount of suffering and hardship in our sport. This causes a lot of doubt in ourselves. Christ knows exactly what this feels like.
Just as Christ doubted in the garden, we doubt before we toe the line.
Just as Christ chose to suffer on the cross, so do we in a race. All runners, even those who are atheist, agnostic, or another religion can identify with Christ in his suffering. Look around you. Everyone else runs away from suffering, but we intentionally choose to seek it.
Physical fitness, mental toughness, these things are important. They help you keep going, but they don’t tell you why you should keep going. They don’t explain why, when your body, mind, and heart are all simultaneously telling you to stop, you keep going.
Christ pushed away his doubt. He suffered because he had a purpose greater than himself.
His reason to die was for us, and the reason when we run is for him. When we run, no one can escape the creeping doubt on race day, but what separates the good from the great are those that learn to discipline this doubt. This requires purpose, requires faith.
The thing about faith is that it is not the opposite of doubt. Just as courage is strength in the midst of fear, so is faith in the midst of doubt. As Eric Liddell, an olympic gold medalist, once said,
“When I run, I feel his pleasure.”
We know we were born to suffer, to choose to suffer, to persevere, to overcome just as Christ did on the cross. This is our purpose, to glorify him in that. And what a great advantage we have that when we suffer, we feel his pleasure.
Galen Rupp in an interview once said he’ll pray in the middle of a marathon for strength to help him push away his own doubt. Christ lightenes our burdens, helps with the heavy load. To ignore him would be a waste of his grace, just as Pre said to not use our talent is a waste of the gift.
He empowers us, renews our strength, both in life and sport. With his strength we can run free, enjoy all the sport has to offer, uplift our teams with champion mentalities, and compete to win.
It’s a myth that God doesn’t care about running or about sports. It’s a fact that faith is a competitive advantage. From Allyson Felix to Jenny Simpson, or Galen Rupp to Christian Coleman, the best of the best, will tell you their strength when they run comes from Christ.
So take faith with you, runner. Run hard, run to glorify the King, run to win, and don’t forget to turn left.
JOSHUA BELL — GEORGETOWN UNIVERSITY
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