Enduring the Discipline

The past eight months have been a challenge for me. During my years in college and the sequential years following, I took up running as my form of stress relief.

I loved it.

I got up early, put on my running shoes, and got in at least 4 miles before most of the world was awake. Then…motherhood happened. For six years I was either pregnant, postpartum, or just too tired to even think about exercising. Any excuse was a plausible one, and I had sympathetic friends who “encouraged” those excuses.

However, last May all of my excuses ran out. All my children were sleeping through the night (PRAISE!). My youngest was almost 18 months. (That hardly qualifies for postpartum.) And, as far as we knew, my husband and I were transitioning from the “having babies” stage to “raising children” stage.

It was time.

Over the last eight months, I’ve discovered that my spiritual walk and discipline is a lot like running. Hebrews 12:1-2 says: “Therefore, since we are surrounded by so great a cloud of witnesses, let us also lay aside every weight, and sin which clings so closely, and let us run with endurance the race that is set before us, looking to Jesus, the founder and perfecter of our faith, who for the joy that was set before him endured the cross, despising the shame, and is seated at the right hand of the throne of God.”

These verses have always been special to me, but over the last few months, I’ve seen them in a fresh way.

First, there were things I needed to get rid of in my life.

My girls got out of school mid-May, and the next day I set out for my first “wog” (walking/jogging). It was hot, humid, sunny, and quite frankly…miserable. That first day, I felt terrible! My feet hurt. My face was red. And, my lungs felt like they were going to explode. I was sure this “new idea” wasn’t a good idea. I, literally, had two of my neighbors ask me if I was OK, and one neighbor offered me water. Ladies, it was THAT bad!

However, I learned a few things from that first wog. My biggest problem was my clothing attire. I needed new shoes — I was running on old shoes, which caused my feet to hurt. I also needed some new workout clothes — I was running in workout pants, and I needed to trade them in for some actual shorts. And, finally, I needed new socks — My regular cotton socks were pinching my toes causing more pain.

Spiritually speaking, many of us are carrying around burdens, sin, and worries that are preventing us from running the race God has for us. Our minds are distracted and our hearts are so divided that we can’t see clearly what the Lord wants from us. We feel awful because we are carrying around the weight of guilt, anger, bitterness, and shame.

It’s difficult to move forward in our relationship with Christ and to feel His presence in our lives when we have so much distracting us.

God designed us for freedom and a relationship with Him. But, we have to be willing to lay aside the very things­—comfortable things—that are causing us pain. What is it that you need to lay aside? What is God asking you to get rid of so He can be supreme in your life? Will you take steps to remove the weight so that you can run the race God has for you?

Next, I also realized the importance of encouragement.

Since starting this new running journey, I have been overwhelmed with the amount of encouragement I’ve experienced. Joanne, a lady who helps in our college ministry, started running about 10 years ago (right after she turned 40!). Now, she runs all over the country, and has even started competing in triathlons. She can run circles around me. But, she has been one of my biggest encouragers.

When I get discouraged, she tells me how she got through that part of her journey. She reminds me that she hasn’t always been at the top of her age-bracket in races, and that there was a time where she couldn’t run 30 seconds without stopping. She gives me perspective when I lose mine.

We also need encouragers in our spiritual race. I would encourage you to find someone in your church or community who can push you towards Jesus. This world is difficult, and we need people a little further along in the journey to come alongside us and encourage us to continue. If you have been following Jesus for awhile, look for a younger Christian woman you can encourage (Titus 2:3-5). The last thing we need is for judgmental Christians who act like they have it all together.

The fact is, we are all struggling with something.

None of us is perfect, and no one has it all figured out. Therefore, we all need someone to tell us that we’re going to make it through and then walk with us until we get there. Ladies, we were made to live and function in community. Instead of looking for ways to tear each other down, let’s seek to be women who encourage and strengthen each other.

Finally, I’ve learned the importance of complete, unwavering focus.

Next month I will be 39 years old. (How in the world is this possible?) Not long after I started this journey, I realized I needed a goal to work towards. So I set the lofty goal of finishing a half marathon during my 40th year.

In order to accomplish this goal, I also had to set smaller goals. Here are a few: Run 10 minutes without stopping. Run a mile without stopping. Run a 5K, 10K, and 15K. Some goals I have accomplished, and some I’m still working toward. I still have a LONG way to go before I can even think about completing a half marathon, but I’m focused. It’s this focus that gets me out of bed in the morning or gives me energy in the evening.

In your relationship with Christ, who or what is your focus? If it is anything other than Jesus, then you will fall short and ultimately fail to grow. In this passage, the phrase “looking to Jesus” is an active, intense looking at something. Too often we give Christ a casual look to make sure we’re “okay.”

But, when was the last time you looked so intently at Chirst that everything else blurred in comparison?

He is the One who is the “founder and perfecter” of our faith. If you find yourself in a rut, turn your eyes towards Jesus. If you’ve lost your passion for the things of God, turn your eyes towards Jesus. If life seems too much to bear and you wonder if you can go on, turn your eyes towards Jesus. The more we look at Him and Him alone, the more peace, joy, hope, and true abundant life we will experience.

Most days, wogging is still difficult. I have a long way to go before I actually look forward to lacing up my shoes and getting out in the cold or the heat. But, I am so far from where I was eight months ago.

My prayer is that next year I will be able to look back on my relationship with Christ and see where I have allowed God to shape me more into the image of His Son. I’m not there yet, but, by God’s grace, I’m seeking to run the race of life He has set before me.