I’m a Christian. I don’t publicly write about my faith that often, but it’s a big part of who I am and thoroughly underlies how I see the world around me. Over the last few years, the process of losing weight and becoming an endurance athlete has had a profound effect on how I understand the role of faith and the depth of God’s involvement in our lives. After all, experiences gained through endurance sports are very much a metaphor for life in general. So it stands to reason that they can also inform our faith.
I realize that some may not share my individual faith perspective, but I do believe that most of us possess an essence of spirituality somewhere inside, and so I offer these observations concerning ‘a faith of endurance’ for what they’re worth. Perhaps they feel more powerful to me than they will to others, because I experienced them first-hand, but I hope that they are as useful in your own spiritual journey as they have been in mine.
A SENSE OF PLACE: I participate in off road endurance sports. Ultra Trail Running (distances over a marathon in length off road); Endurance Mountain Biking (typically distances well over 50 miles off road); Open Water Swimming (distances over 2 miles in open water). It is nearly impossible to participate in these activities and not develop a profound wonder for nature. And, more deeply, to marvel at the existence of a creator who could conjure up such environments, and then beckon us to be part of them. There is nothing so awe-inspiring as being out in settings that put you in your place.
Being exposed to the elements up above timberline. Swimming way out in a large body of water. Being caught in a severe storm miles from nowhere. In these situations, one is reminded (sometimes not so subtly) of their place in the universe and of our utter reliance on God Almighty. A reminder we often need because we seem to lose this perspective in the hustle of modern life. We are reminded that there are forces at work around us (in this case natural and visible, but just as importantly there are spiritual forces) which we have no direct control over; we can only take heart in knowing that we belong to the One who does have control; even if we don’t always see it or sense it as much as we’d like. On a recent trail run, my mind was pattering through the recent stresses of life, and – out in the woods, in the snow and wind – God’s still small voice reminded me, “…you silly boy. Look around you; I made all this. All of this is under my control. Don’t you think that I’m aware of your needs and have those under control as well?”
He says, “Be still, and know that I am God…”. (Psalm 46:10)
PERSEVERANCE: I participate in trail races that are frequently 4 hours long on the short end of things. Typical events are in the 8-12+ hour range and I’m training for events that will stretch past 24 hours in length. These events take place off road, on narrow trails, with roots, rocks, and lots and lots of hills (preferably mountains), regardless of weather and regardless of daylight (that’s why God invented headlamps). You can’t sprint these races. If you head out too fast you simply won’t make it. And, whereas you can basically show up at the starting line of your first 5k road race ill-prepared (which is exactly what I did) and still manage to slog through it, there’s no way to fake it through an endurance race. It will eat you up and spit you out in very painful ways.
Training for these events, be it a race or a backcountry adventure, takes consistency, dedication, hard work and countless hours spent alone, out on the trail figuring out what works and what doesn’t. In other words, it takes perseverance. To be sure, every endurance athlete has their own unique training approach, but there are no shortcuts in these types of efforts. It’s a pass/fail kind of thing. Either you put in the work or you didn’t. And so it is with our faith. If we show up for the spiritual race of life not even prepared for a short distance, than life will quickly punch holes in our faith and spit us back out. A faith of endurance that can survive something as grueling as life can only be born out of daily time spent with the Creator of Life.
And let us run with perseverance the race marked out for us… (Hebrews 12:1)
MARVEL IN THE JOURNEY: There are times on long training runs or during the back half of a race that I’m hurting. Mentally, physically, emotionally. These are extremely demanding sports on all kinds of levels. But there is always a point when I begin to marvel at what my body is capable of, what my mind is capable of pushing my body to do, of the natural splendor I get to be part of, and of the fact that I get to experience the world in a way that the vast majority of people rarely do. Three years ago I was obese and couldn’t make it 10 minutes of running without needing a break. Today an “easy week” consists of 30 miles of trail running. I have to marvel at that; I’m very privileged to get to do what I do. My sense of “normal” is now so far off the beaten path that I can’t forget how blessed I am to experience what I do. And, in the same way, we need to marvel at what God allows in our lives. In how far He has brought us. The loved ones He has placed in our lives. The opportunities where He has generously provided. The tough times where He has pulled us through and made us stronger for the struggle. I marvel at what has happened already in my relatively young life. I am in awe of my wife, my own kids, and the other close friends and family in our lives whom we call “family.” There is no doubt that life can be tough. But it can be and should be marveled at.
Look at the birds of the air; they do not sow or reap or store away in barns, and yet your heavenly Father feeds them. Are you not much more valuable than they? (Matthew 6:26)