Last month I ran my first 1/2 marathon. For those of you who don’t track such things, a half-marathon is 13.1 miles and it was the farthest that I have ever run. I started training in the cold of January, stealing time during my planning periods at school to peel off 4, 5, or 6 miles. I’d rush back to the locker room, shower and be back in time for my afternoon class. It was not easy to stay consistent and it wasn’t easy to get over some of the mileage hurdles. I noticed my enthusiasm waned about the time I saw an 8 or 10 mile run on the schedule. But it was the conditioning, consistently done over 4 months that enabled me to run Nashville’s Country Music 1/2 Marathon on April 26. It was a rush. I wasn’t fast (I never have been a fast runner). My goal was simply to DO it.
St. Paul liked the race imagery as well and often used it as metaphor for the Christian life. He says in 1 Corinthians, “Do you not know that in a race all the runners run, but only one gets the prize? Run in such a way as to get the prize.” (1 Cor. 9:24) Paul’s encouragement and desire is for the Corinthians (and us) to run well and to run our best. This metaphor speaks of effort, consistency, and obedience. In fact this is exactly the problem with the Galatians. Using the race metaphor Paul says to them, “You were running a good race. Who cut in on you and kept you from obeying the truth?” (Gal. 5:7)
Nike has it right. So many things in life simply fall under the phrase, “Just do it!” Many of my greatest issues and challenges are caused not by what happens to me, but what I do to me! In regards to the spiritual life, so often I simply neglect to do that which I know I should do. When I become lazy about my spiritual life, my “race” suffers. I’m not running well. I’m not running my best. When training for a marathon, if you take too long a break in training your running suffers. So it is in the spiritual life.
Authentic spirituality takes work, practice, obedience, good doses of humor and equal amounts of humility. It is a race. In many ways it is like a marathon; we’re in this for the long haul. The conditioning of our souls is what allows us to run well. Frequent Mass attendance, regular confession, reading Scripture, reading an edifying spiritual book, serving others — all of these are ways we “work out our salvation” (Phil 2:12). All of these are ways to increase our spiritual health and endurance and run the race.