Well, dear readers, I’m back, and with one whole semester of Bible college under my belt, I’m ready to teach y’all a thing or two about Jesus.
I’m kidding, of course. If anything, I’m realizing how much I don’t know about Jesus. I’m incredibly grateful for a place like Ozark Christian College, which shows me how little I know, and then helps me fill in the gaps. That being said, a blog entitled “All the Things Nathan Doesn’t Know” would go on for rather a while, so I’ll stick to something I actually have learned.
One thing I’ve been learning over the last few months is the discipline of running. Last summer, I figured it was about time to work on some healthy habits (i.e. run semi-regularly, eat something leafy, stop drinking Mountain Dew for breakfast, etc.) and I remembered I used to enjoy running. The operative phrase here is “used to”. My eighth-grade gym class consisted primarily of running laps, with a week or two in the middle of the semester spent learning the Cha-Cha Slide. (Needless to say, I preferred the running.) Since that year, though, I had only gone for a jog a handful of times. Getting back into the routine was difficult. However, the Freshman Fifteen ain’t got nothin’ on me. After a few weeks, I reached a point I actually enjoyed the exercise. Running became a nice way to take a break from whatever else was going on and challenge myself to improve.
This spring semester began by introducing me to different kinds of discipline. At OCC’s Spiritual Formation retreat, I learned new practices to focus on growth in the emotional and (you guessed it) spiritual aspects of my life. I also learned that running is a really good metaphor. *Insert Hebrews 12:1 here.* In a lot of ways, it became as much of a spiritual exercise as a physical one. As runners who have more experience than I do would tell you, running is also a mental battle just as much as a physical one. Between the mind, body, and spirit, I figured I had a pretty good range of personal growth covered in this workout regimen.
(I forgot about the heart, and that’s the one that threw me/is currently throwing me for a loop.)
It makes sense that I’d neglect the emotional side of things, to be fair; at the Spiritual Formation retreat, we learned that INTJ’s (my Myers-Briggs personality type) are often stereotyped as, to put it nicely, heartless jerks. Despite this, my heart was more involved with this running business than I originally realized. Exercise became an outlet when I was overwhelmed, anxious, lonely – essentially, one hundred percent of the time. I’m not saying this was a bad thing; having an outlet is great! However, I realized recently that I’ve mostly just been running away from things that need to be addressed. I wasn’t actually running towards anything to face them. Places like the crowded cafeteria and dorm set me on edge, and I flattened confusing emotions underfoot without a destination beyond temporary relief. I ran for (and from) fear of failure, of repeating mistakes, of vulnerability, and of disappointment, all hot on my trail.
For an introvert, I’m surprisingly bad at being alone. While these runs were great physical escapes, they provided more time for me to contemplate these fears. To combat contemplation, I gave myself pep talks and imagined people waiting at the end of the trail in support. Through much running and praying, I became aware of what I was trying to run to. The deep desire in my heart, deeper even than the oppressive fear, is the longing to run to God. Obviously, I have not yet succeeded in physically running to God, but just as the running-from influenced my actions before, this running-to is changing them now and allowing me to grow. Steffany Gretzinger worded this beautifully in her song “Out of Hiding”*, written as if the Father is singing to His children: “Oh, as you run, what hindered love will only become part of the story!”
Whether you’re moving away from something or towards something, running is tiring. I wish I could say I’ve had some great revelation, resolved my fears, and halved my average mile time, but unfortunately, I am continuing in the unknown. Most of the time, I can’t see the path in front of me, but only become aware in brief moments of clarity and peace that God’s moving me in the right direction. If this journey was an actual run, I’d just now be at the starting point, but my hope is in the destination. It may be cheesy (and a little on-the-nose) to picture Jesus there, arms outstretched, but there are no other arms I’d rather crash into once I cross that finish line.
*Steffany Gretzinger may have had more influence on this post than I originally realized. Give her a listen: Out of Hiding (Father's Song), Constant One, and Steady Heart are the most pertinent to this topic.