Run for the hills

First published in The Christian Science Journal

Two summers ago, I was bitten by the "I want to be someone else" bug. I'd just turned 36, and one failed, childless marriage notched on the bedpost had not done much to improve my already faltering self-image. Attempting to convince myself that my fate was not ruled by nature, I decided to train for my first marathon.

Initially, my training was not the empowering experience I had envisioned. Helen Reddy was wrong: Although woman, I was neither strong nor invincible - quite the opposite in fact. I didn't get in touch with the "real me," nor did I learn how to conquer my particular demons. However, I did learn one thing, namely, that I hated hills. My running partner told me to look at them as challenges - to relish feeling my quads and glutes strengthen - to revel in the burn. It didn't work.

I grew to despise all climbs, no matter how minor. For me, the only positive change in elevation was a negative one. I began psyching myself out whenever I encountered the slightest ascent. I dreaded every roll I saw, and anticipated - even magnified - the potential pain. Eventually, I got to the point where I would begin walking a hill even before I got to it.

During marathon training, I was introduced to Christian Science. I embraced its teachings and the divine power I saw in its practice. I had experienced several healings, but had not yet grasped its relevance to my daily challenges. Although I knew God's love is bountiful, I wanted to "save up" proofs of God's care, in a sense, and felt guilty about calling upon Him except in the direst cases. I was aware of God's power but couldn't fully accept all the benefits of being one of God's children, made in His image.

One morning I woke up early and decided to run, even though the sun had not yet broken the horizon. I chose a new, more traveled route, for safety's sake. This was one of the first times I'd run in the dark, and I loved it.

Although I wasn't able to appreciate the tidy, well-kept yards, wave at passersby, or even discern the road far ahead, I did enjoy the vast, unobstructed, star-dappled sky. I also could hear that loud silence, encountered only just before dawn. I got to smell the crisp night air that seemed so much fresher because I was the only one breathing it. My run was amazing. I was strong and fast. The route I'd stumbled upon was extraordinarily level with only a few relatively minor rises, which caused me no trouble. I returned home, satisfied and invigorated.

Later that afternoon, I decided to clock my route. I hopped in the car and retraced my steps. But something was wrong. The route I was driving was inundated with rolling hills, some quite steep. This route was much more up and down than my normal one. Could I really have run this?

I had run it, but I hadn't seen it. Since the darkness had prevented me from anticipating any upcoming hills, I wasn't able to dread them and could, instead, marvel over God's splendor. My body could do hills; the trouble was my thinking. I had been focusing all my energy on the limitations of my body, not on the limitless nature of the divine Mind. The "I think I can't" mind-set had been sabotaging my running.

I began to wonder in how many other areas of my life I had allowed this kind of limited thinking to do the same thing. Perhaps, instead of training for my first marathon, I could have been training for my 101st. I learned a powerful lesson that day. I promised myself not to let negative thoughts incapacitate me again.

The lesson I learned has permeated all areas of my life, not just my running. For instance, I recently was awarded a Fulbright scholarship to teach in Eastern Europe for a year. In previous years, I had been hesitant even to apply because I feared both failure (what if my application were rejected?) and success (what if I were granted the scholarship and had to live abroad and away from my friends and family for 12 months?). However, having learned how debilitating negativity can be, I did apply, I was accepted, and I began to prepare for what has turned out to be the adventure of my life.

Since that pivotal morning, I have run six marathons. Although I'm still not crazy about running uphill and much prefer a gentle downward slope, when I catch myself dreading an upcoming uprising, I stop myself and think, "Aw, this is nothing for a child of God."

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