Faith and Running: “Will you still love Me?”

Sometimes we all need a little kick in the butt to get us back to where we’re supposed to be.  That’s how it was for me, anyways.  I was fortunate enough to make it all the way through high school without a single injury. Yep, you heard me right.  I’ll never forget my last high school track race ever—the 1500.  I finished in 8th place—far from a state champion, but I sure felt like one.  It was something I had worked so hard for over 4 years and I finally received some recognition for it.  But then I got to college and it didn’t seem so great.  I started looking at other people who were much better runners than I was.  Suddenly I felt so small.  Once again, my first two years were flawless.  Had a couple of occasional bumps, but nothing that a couple of days rest didn’t heal.  My freshman year I was part of the team that qualified for nationals in Ohio, which is still to this day one of the best experiences of my life.  But it wasn’t until my sophomore year of track I had my “break-out.”  Everything started to click—my body had adapted to the high mileage and I finally understood my coach’s training philosophy.  That spring I qualified for Drake in the 10k—something I NEVER imagined I could do—and was only a few seconds from the school record and qualifying for nationals.  Things were great.

On one of my runs early the next fall I remember thinking to myself about how great my body was.  I never had iron problems, I was always healthy, and I never had any major injuries that made me sit out.  I was pretty proud of how tough I was.  I should have known better.  Not long after that run, I came down with a cold.  Nothing major, but it set me back a little.  Then one morning I woke up and my hip was in intense pain and I couldn’t run more than five minutes without it hurting.  For the first time in my entire running career, I had to sit out a cross country meet.  The fact that it was the conference meet did not help.  I made it back for regionals, but I missed qualifying for nationals by 15 seconds.  Sitting out that first meet was very humbling and very lonely.  Still I entered that Christmas break motivated with my sights set on outdoor nationals in California.

When it came time for the new year, I prayed a very dangerous prayer—that I would have joy in all circumstances.  At the time, I did not realize just how dangerous it would be.  Well, God has definitely given me many situations to practice that.  In the last five months I have been to doctor after doctor after doctor receiving a different diagnosis each time—your iron is low, your thyroid isn’t working correctly, you have a fold in your meniscus, you have asthma.  Each time I leave the doctor’s office hopeful that this will finally be the cure; that I’ll finally be able to get back to running.  While it helps for a little while, I still wind up back in the waiting room hoping for a new answer.

Though the process is not over, I have taken a lot of time to reflect on it.  Rather than looking back at where I have been I am now looking ahead to where I will go from this new starting point.  With me I will take a few lessons that I learned throughout this latest detour.   In 1 Corinthians Paul refers to our earthly bodies as temples: “Do you not know that your body is a temple of the Holy Spirit, who is in you, whom you have received from God?  You are not your own; you were bought at a price.  Therefore honor God with your body.” 1 Corinthians 6:19-20.  Looking back on my “successful” days, I was worshipping the temple itself rather than the Creator.   I was more concerned with what my body could do for me instead of using it as a means of glorifying God.  This verse has also really helped me in a battle I have had with some disordered eating and body image issues.  And I know for a fact that many of you out there reading this have struggled with similar issues.  It is SO HARD for runners, as we’re constantly comparing ourselves to the girls next to us on the starting line.  “If only I could lose 10 more pounds, then I’d drop a minute off of my time.  That is what will make me happy.”  But it doesn’t.  Staring at the mirror for hours is not healthy.  Obsessing over what you ate is not healthy.  Using running as a means of purging excess calories is NOT healthy.   These habits are not only unhealthy, but they are dishonoring to God!  He tells us that we are “fearfully and wonderfully made” (Psalm 139:14).  The more time and energy we spend critiquing and analyzing our bodies, the less that we have to do work for the Kingdom!  Finally, I have begun to realize that trials and joy are not to be separated.  In the book of James it says “Consider it pure joy, my brothers, whenever you face trials of many kinds, because you know that the testing of your faith develops perseverance.  Perseverance must finish its work so that you may be mature and complete, not lacking anything.”  These trials that I am going through—both running and non-running related—are all a part of God’s plan to continue to mold me and shape me into the person He created me to be.

As I continue with my improvised training plan, there are still a few daunting questions that try to trip me up every day.  What if I never get back to normal?  What if I have to give up my dream of being an All-American?   I don’t know the answers to them…but I feel like all this time God has been asking me, “Mel, will you still love Me even if you can’t ever run completely healthy again?”  When I get to heaven it won’t be me and all of my running trophies and my bib number from the Drake Relays or an All-American trophy.  No.  It will be me and Jesus.  And that will be enough.  If that’s how I am going to live in the end, why not start now?  I need to live THIS life like Jesus is enough.  It is easy to trust God when things are going well, but will I still love Him even if He takes this away from me?  My answer is yes.  But it’s not easy.  I would be lying if I said that I don’t think about the goals/dreams I did not achieve and fret about what is going to happen next.  However, it is a process, a journey.  As for now, I am just grateful for each mile, each race that I do have, and I hope that however my senior year turns out, God will be glorified in every aspect.  J  And for those of you currently going through trials of your own—whether they are related to running or not—keep this verse in mind from James 1:12 “Blessed is the man who perseveres under trial, because when he has stood the test he will receive the crown of life that God has promised to those who love him.”