I’ve never considered myself a runner. Quite the opposite, in fact. Although I enjoy several sports, all my life I’ve literally ‘ran away’ from any sport or activity that required continuous exertion, on account of the agonizingly dreadful burning in the chest that happens when the ‘out of shape’ do what seemingly just isn’t natural. Sitting on the couch and watching other people run on TV was more my thing. It just seemed more… I don’t know… enjoyable, and pain free to boot. I have several friends who run, and although I always admired their pain tolerance I really didn’t understand why they put themselves through that. I mean, have you ever seen a runner smile while running? I think not.
Except that, the older one gets, the more difficult it becomes to stay healthy and maintain one’s weight. Last year, despite ongoing efforts to eat healthy that had trimmed my bulging size 38 waistline (going on 40s) into a 36, I found myself stretching those 36s again. Having already tossed my old pants, it was either purchase a whole new wardrobe (despite my wife’s love of shopping, buying the next pant size up for me was certainly NOT on her list of fun things to do) or trim down. As it turns out, I really, really love to eat. I can contain it to some degree by making healthier choices, but I can’t stop it any more than I could stop the sun from shining or the tide from coming in. I needed to do more.
The alternative, as painful as it sounded, was to begin and maintain a regular workout regimen – which is how I finally got introduced, kicking and screaming I might add, to running. I started in January with an uncomplicated routine that consisted of running as far as possible to start the workout (after stretching and warming up, of course), then alternating between walking and running for 25 minutes or so. At first I could barely run a quarter of a mile without collapsing on the floor from chest spasms and what felt like pain I imagined a mild heart attack would inflict. But, I kept at it, at least every other day or more, going just a bit farther each time.
Soon I was running a half mile without stopping, then a mile, then two, and finally, after several months, I achieved my original goal of being able to run five kilometers (a bit more than three miles) without stopping. I’m sure it’s taken me longer than most, and I have a lot farther to go, but I’ve certainly improved from where I started… the couch! When I say that I just turned 40 and I’m in the best shape of my life, it’s not to brag. In fact, it’s actually sad. I’ve spent my entire life avoiding the pain of running, failing to realize that, despite my temporary discomfort, it is that pain that, ultimately, makes me stronger, better, and faster. That’s what I think about when I’m running , legs sore, chest burning, huffing and puffing along. I think about how I’m going to feel even immediately after I’m finished, and how my body is going to respond long-term. I think about spending as much time as humanly possible with my wife, about seeing my grandkids someday, maybe tossing a football with them like I do with my son now.
What a metaphor for every aspect of the human condition! After all, what can really be accomplished without pain, discomfort, inconvenience, and the other things we humans tend to want to avoid at all costs? What great business was built without hard, back-breaking work? What athletic feat was accomplished without countless grueling hours of training? What great nation was built without sacrifice? What wisdom, really, has ever been gained without some type of pain?
And even the pain that we can’t always explain, the seemingly unendurable yet inevitable pains life brings because we live in a sin-filled world, that pain even has a purpose. Not being God, of course, we’ll never know His purposes for everything that happens in this life, but as a Christian I can speculate on at least one thing – an eternity in heavenly bliss wouldn’t seem nearly as wonderful without the contrast of the pain we experience here on earth.
This Thanksgiving, I’m thankful for all of God’s abundant blessings, even the pain He sometimes uses, despite ourselves, to make us stronger, wiser, and better human beings.