How to Run with the Unforced Rhythm of Grace

When I started this blog we instituted “Spirit Stretch Fridays” (thanks to daughter Maggie) with the idea that the post on Fridays would be about potential spiritual practices.  Thinking outside the box a bit.  I usually imagine most people are way down the road on this, but last fall I helped facilitate an online class for people in ministry called Soul Care.  At the end we took a poll and asked, “Before this class, did you regularly incorporate spiritual practices into your everyday life?”  Only 20% responded “Yes”.  And that was people in the ministry!  All that to say that recently I was asked to write an article on this topic for our church magazine and thought maybe it was worth posting here too. Sorry it’s a bit longer than usual.  

Our daughter Katy has been training to run a half-marathon.  This should really be illegal in our family because although we’re athletic, we don’t run.  It’s kind of been a rule of family solidarity.  She’s totally breaking it.

The biggest part of me is feeling proud and impressed, but a small corner of me also feels more inadequate than ever.  This is something I just don’t think I can do.  I’m not a RUNNER.  Or even a runner.

But Katy wasn’t either.  Til one day she tied up her shoes and put one foot in front of the other.  For two blocks.  And then a mile.  And then three….and then 13.1 miles.

And in the process she’s learned that to be a runner, you have to run.  You have to make it a part of your everyday life.

She learned that there are benefits to running by yourself, but it’s also helpful to have the company and accountability of others, so a couple of days a week she runs with a group of friends who are training for the same race and they tell each other their goals, and their successes and complain about sore muscles.  And that helps.

She’s found routes she really liked to run, and times of the day that were better than others.  And that helps too.

If, five months ago, someone had shown up on Katy’s doorstep and told her they had signed her up to run a marathon, she would have said “You’re crazy.”  She couldn’t achieve that by just trying.  She had to go into training.  No one drifts into becoming a marathoner.

And no one just drifts into spiritual maturity.  Enter the integrated life of training with Jesus.  Enter spiritual practices.

Twenty years ago I was a Christian.  I had a “quiet time” set aside during the day to pray and read my Bible, but that was about it.  Nice and neat and compartmentalized.         Boom. Done.

But then I read John Ortberg’s book The Life You’ve Always Wanted and a whole new way of viewing my relationship with Jesus opened up to me.  Like someone discovering a runner’s high, I found that as I thought outside the box and integrated training practices into my everyday life, my relationship with Jesus deepened.

And everything “counted”.  Even little things made a difference.  Not just the dramatic “burning bush” experiences, and not just the half hour set aside for devotions, and not just the times I seemed to get it “right” for a second or two.  Every moment of the day became a chance to live more of the “with Jesus” life.

An ongoing conversation with God, or praying for strangers I encounter through the day seems to grow compassion a smidge in my selfish soul and make me aware of grace.

Journaling or looking back over my day, noticing the times when I turned towards and when I turned away from God is a spiritual habit that’s like looking in a mirror and noticing my hair needs combing or I have a smudge of mascara that needs a little cleanup.

And purposely getting in the longest line or slowest lane is a spiritual practice that I’m still hoping is forming patience in my hurried heart.

I pray that engaging in secret acts of service helps me let go of my need for approval from anyone other than God.

Celebration.  Rest.  Silence.  A life lived more like Jesus.  Step by tiny step.  I stumble a lot.

I am not a  natural runner.  And I’m not setting any speed records.  And my gait is a little awkward.  There are “ugly run” days.  But the race of faith is a marathon and I want to cross the finish line finally with the “unforced rhythm of grace.”  And that’s only going to happen if I tie my shoes and put one foot in front of the other today.

What’s your training experience been like?

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