Last summer, I decided to become a runner.
You need to understand that this wasn’t something I was excited about. I don’t normally run unless things are on fire. And “athletic” is not a descriptor anyone would ever apply to me. But running seemed a good thing to start doing and I wanted to be able to meet a goal I set for myself, so I decided I’d work up to running 5k. Starting June of last year, mornings found me up at dawn, jogging sweaty and red-faced around our local running trails.
I hated it.
Even as I made progress, every step felt like a struggle. I got bored. Though I promised myself I’d use the time to pray, my mind wandered. My lungs ached and my legs hurt. But then, one day – as I was trying to push myself to complete my longest interval yet, and seriously considering giving up and walking the rest of the way – an older man rounded the bend from the opposite direction. I could tell he was a real runner – he had the gear and the effortless ease to prove it – but to my surprise he punched the air in triumph as he flew by me. And then applauded. “Good job!” he cried. “Keep it up! Keep going!”
In spite of everything, I smiled. And – buoyed by his enthusiastic encouragement – I completed my interval.
I ran into that man several more times and he always had similar exhortations: “Don’t stop! You’re almost there! Way to go!” But it wasn’t just him. One day, as I rounded the curve by a local park, I passed a little boy out with his grandfather. Every time a runner came by, regardless of skill level, the little boy would whoop and scream and cheer them on like he was watching a marathon. And two women I passed in the mornings biked together, listening to a Bible study as they worked their way down the trail. Once, an avid runner who always seemed to fly by everyone on the trail slowed his pace to run beside me for a while and point out the coterie of deer hiding in a thicket nearby. Weeks later, he shouted out the directions to a few good birdwatching spots as he darted by me.
Those moments got me through that first season of running, and pushed me to meet my goal. This year, as soon as the good weather hit, I went out again. Already, I’ve enjoyed a few special moments: yesterday I passed a runner belting out the chorus to a praise song and beaming at everyone who passed by. And on the way back I ran across a flock of baby geese: fat, fuzzy, uncoordinated little babies marching in an uneven line behind their parents. When I glanced up from them, wearing a silly grin on my face, I met the gaze of a woman pushing a baby stroller. She was smiling, too.
I still don’t love running. But running has given me a chance to marvel at the simple momentary kindnesses of people, the daily glimpses of God’s grace that can occur in the briefest of meetings. I don’t know if all the people I’ve had encounters with on the trail are Christians or not. I’m certain some are; perhaps other are not. But either way, God has used them to speak to me and to move me, to impress upon me the truth of Proverbs 15:23:
How good is a timely word!
And what I am reminded of is that even in small moments, even in encounters with people I may never see again, my presence – what I say, what I do, how I act – matters. May I always find it in myself to imitate those people who showed me such kindness, to offer a smile or encouragement where I can, to get out of my own head and provide a moment of grace for someone else.
Have a blessed weekend! An announcement about a Bible study will be coming up next week: so keep your eyes peeled!