Freedom and joy in running
A Christian Science perspective: A prayerful approach transforms this marathon runner’s experience.
The arrival of spring-like temperatures always inspires me, like many Michiganders, to put on my running shoes and get outside! Many cities begin to announce upcoming spring and summer races, and for years I have enjoyed competing in everything from 5k runs to marathons.
When I first started running, it always felt like a mental and physical grind. In training for a race, runners would often talk about pitfalls such as injuries, discouragement, or a lack of time to get the requisite training done. I experienced many of these pitfalls, and my first marathon was a grueling and unpleasant experience. I realized that something in my training regimen needed to change or I needed to quit!
Taking an honest look at my approach revealed that I was entirely too focused on the mechanical and physical aspects of running. I’m a dedicated student of Christian Science, and, as such, it has been a lifelong pursuit for me to gain a deeper understanding of man’s spiritual nature as the expression of God, our infinite and spiritual creator (see Genesis 1:26, 27). I have always found it incredibly liberating to realize that as our true identity is spiritual, material limitations such as body type, weight, or age do not apply to our real being; we all freely express infinite activity and ability. A favorite Bible passage tells us that it is Spirit, God, that gives man his vitality and strength, rather than the body: “It is the spirit that quickeneth [gives life]; the flesh profiteth nothing” (John 6:63).
Most runners acknowledge the importance of a correct mental mind-set. Keeping thought focused on grace and strength and joy, instead of counting each physical footstep, speeds our progress. Christian Science takes this further, showing that – as Christ Jesus proved – acknowledging our real, spiritual identity is more than positive thinking, but actually transforms our thought and experience.
I realized that often during training runs I would let a string of unhelpful thoughts run a circuit in my head: “I’m not enjoying this. When can I stop? I’m tired. My legs ache.” As I set out the following spring to train for a new marathon, I decided to include praying – turning my thought to God, who is infinite Spirit and all good – in my warm-up for runs. A favorite passage I would pray with is from “Science and Health with Key to the Scriptures,” by Mary Baker Eddy, who is the founder of this newspaper: “Let us feel the divine energy of Spirit, bringing us into newness of life and recognizing no mortal nor material power as able to destroy. Let us rejoice that we are subject to the divine ‘powers that be’ ” (p. 249).
I found this to be a great way to pray, not only to begin my runs with, but also to start off every day – Spirit, God, continuously brings us newness and freshness and life, and no circumstance or condition can thwart this! God being Life itself, we can start our days by letting Him, the divine Spirit that motivates and impels us, inspire our movements and activities. I resolved to be conscious throughout my runs of my purely spiritual, limitless nature.
Sometimes, though, despite this prayerful preparation – which also led to a more joyful outlook on running – the complaints from my body would become a little overwhelming. During these times, I would remember the freedom of movement that’s inherent in being entirely spiritual and acknowledge that freedom and strength are natural to us every moment.
Again in Science and Health, Mrs. Eddy writes: “Become conscious for a single moment that Life and intelligence are purely spiritual, – neither in nor of matter, – and the body will then utter no complaints” (p. 14). It made sense to me that matter cannot tell me anything about my true, spiritual identity.
The very next marathon was a completely different experience. Rather than focusing on counting the miles or steps, I prayed. I found that I was able to revel in the beautiful day and in the dedication and spirit of the spectators and all those competing around me, and I finished the race feeling energized and joyful.
As we come to know our real nature as the image of God, who is infinite Spirit and Life, we will find that we experience more and more freedom and vitality in our lives.