I’m running again.
I ran once, before. Thanks to an app and some determination I was able, at some point several years ago, to run a 5k. Sweaty, but able. And then I stopped running, for reasons I cannot now recall. And I stayed stopped for several years, and if I am very honest I did not miss running at all. What I remembered of it primarily was that it left me hot and hungry.
But I’m running again, now.
I’m not sure whether it was the impending realization of my thirty-eighth birthday this month or the general unease that comes of realizing you are indeed less fit than you used to be, but I got the bright idea to try again. I had done it before: surely I could bring myself back up to speed, so to speak.
I regretted the decision almost immediately.
I started off with the same app I used several years ago only to realize my fitness has taken several strides back: my first attempts resulted in only a minimal sprint before, gulping air, I was forced to slow. And when I integrated running into my schedule regularly, I found that I was sore perpetually. Sore feet, sore ankles, sore shins.
Ironically, jogging made getting out of bed more difficult in the morning, and I suddenly felt less fit, not more. My body didn’t seem to remember what running was like, and every motion felt forced and confusing. Everything kept hurting. In an effort to bolster myself to continue doing it, I got myself a pair of Bluetooth earbuds and compression socks and consoled myself that I was at least trying to move.
And then one day, I had a decent run.
I am still running intervals—no solid stretches yet—but my body remembered somehow for that brief period what running was like, and I fell into a rhythm that made me feel less like a pot of noodles clattering down the street. I ran a little longer that day than before. I didn’t hate it.
Then a very bad run. Then two more good runs. Then a fine run that was not great but also not terrible. The last time I ran, and timed myself, I was on pace to finally pick back up with the app again. And yesterday, when I walked to the fridge for water, I surprised myself by realizing that my feet and legs were not in agonizing pain.
I’ve made the point on this blog before that change can be so gradual we don’t notice it. But it’s worth noting that change can sometimes be so gradual that it tempts us to quit before the alterations to our lives and our habits can be made totally manifest.
An example? A while back—surely over a year ago now—I decided to cut back on my internet use. I did this in a few concrete ways: I blacklisted the sites I tended to waste time on, cut my news consumption down to one source, twice a day, and basically gave myself a list of permissible “sites” to visit that I genuinely, really enjoyed or used. At the time, it didn’t feel like much. But in the intervening period, I realized that without even knowing it the amount of writing and crochet I produce has skyrocketed. I have more time: the effects took a while to manifest.
In God Walk: Moving at the Speed of Your Soul, Mark Buchanan has a marvelous chapter on the slowness of God. He writes:
This is perhaps the most obvious thing about God, though rarely noticed. Of all the divine attributes that we laud or debate, ponder or puzzle over, it’s seldom or never we mention God’s slowness. Yet nothing about God is more empirically verifiable; he just seems in no particular hurry at all …especially, think about making a disciple, just one disciple. Think about it personally. Think about you. Think about the slowness, the laboring, groaning, back-and-forth slowness of it, the many plodding years, the many lapses and mishaps and detours…
Great change happens slowly, incrementally, sometimes almost invisibly. If I ever do run a 5k again, it will be after a long period of changes that are almost unseen: a minute longer here, or there, lungs that endure a day better than the day before, soreness that decreases slowly over time.
And so for you, and so for me, in our daily walk of faith.
The pandemic is a stark reminder that we live in a culture that wants results now. I have heard public health officials lament that part of the struggle of getting Americans to wear masks and engage in social distancing and other protocols is that many people simply don’t take the long-term view: they don’t understand that inconveniences and discomfort now will reap ever-more-increasing benefits as time goes by. We want results immediately. We want a pill, a program, a gadget that fixes whatever is not right immediately. And if the process takes too long, we abandon it.
But God does not work that way and neither does faith nor spiritual formation. Not much in the world worth doing does. Daily prayer, dedicated reading of Scripture, time spent silently in God’s presence may, some particular dull days—if we are very honest—feel like it amounts to little more than a hill of beans. But the slow work of the Spirit in us over time is astonishing.
I’ll close with a reminder.
One of my students is developing a computer program from scratch to make one of her daily tasks easier. She triumphantly presented it to me recently, only for us to find there was a bug that prevented the program from working as it should. She sent me a quiet, solemn apology and told me she would not be using the program any longer for that particular task.
I asked her not to stop. The setback is part of the process; I explained. From it, a better program will come. And if it takes a while, that’s okay—all the best things do.
God is slow. His change is slow. Sometimes we’re slow, too.
But that doesn’t mean the results aren’t worthwhile.