(Garret Ehlers is a former 3200M and XC Champion at OA-BCIG. Now is a NAIA All American in the Steeplechase at Morningside.)
God tends to work in amazing ways and can transform your life at any moment through the smallest actions. I know this all to well as my life was forever transformed the day I discovered running, it was through running and my teammates that I began my walk with God as well. At all levels my teammates have been behind me pushing me in my faith to further it and become a better person and Christian. They take initiation in making sure I’m where I need to be and pushing me to continue growing and talking to God daily. When God blessed me with the gift of running He opened my eyes to so many unbelievable things in life and let me see all the beauty that life has to offer me. Running has taught me self-responsibility for my actions, it’s shown me a way to have fellowship with my teammates and friends, it’s taught me to be other-oriented, as well as teaching me one of the greatest lessons in life I’ve ever learned of always believing in myself and in God’s plan for me.
During the second semester of my freshman year was when I truly found God in my life and started to see all the ways that He blesses me daily. I started looking to Him for guidance every day, reading His word as much as I could, listening to Christian music and trying to get more active in the church I attended. I found staying in His word and thanking Him easy at college being surrounded by my friends who walk beside me in my faith. Unfortunately, as summer rolled around I traveled back home and through running, family, friends, and fun, some how I put my relationship with Christ on the back burner. As cross country rolled around signaling the start of my sophomore year I knew it was going to be a tremendous year. However, for every running high there’s always a running low and I found the year would be a back forth struggling over how I was producing and what I was capable of. Through out cross country I constantly felt pressure beating on me to lead my team in every practice, meet, and run. I quickly became worn out physically and emotionally however continued to push forward to help my team. It was at that point when I realized that I hadn’t been as strong in my faith as I needed to be and I took the pressure that I put on myself and placed it squarely on God’s shoulders. During moments of weakness in races I would take that negative energy and transform it into positive and when I knew I had to make a big surge or move or hold on for dear life I knew God had my back and I would pray. Philippians 4:13 “I can do all things through Him who strengthens me” would be running through my head as well as 2 Timothy 1:7 “For God did not give us a spirit of timidity, but a spirit of power, of love and of self-discipline.” Through all the ups and downs of the Cross Country season it was God I looked too when I was stumbling and wasn’t where I should have been and it was Him who lifted me up and restored me to where I needed to be.
Indoor track and field was a season I had been looking forward to all year. My freshman year I had found successin the 3200M relay as well as the 3K and 5K and I was eager to gun down my personal bests, make a run for the school record, and take a trip to nationals. The reality of my plans for myself and God’s plan for me however did not align for indoor and I was plagued by frustrations and feelings of inadequacy. I managed to go a whole year without touching a single one of my best from my freshman year, I was having great workouts in practice but I was struggling to convert them to good races. The hinge in my running career occurred at the ISU Indoor 5K, a year previously I had won my heat as well as broke my best high school time by more than twenty seconds. This year I ran hard but finished slower and in the back of the pack. Throughout high school my self-confidence in my running never wavered, but at this point in time I had no self-confidence in myself and I began running cowardly and getting complacent in my races. Mentally I was wrestling with the questions of why I was struggling. I was constantly asking myself why am I running? Is it for my benefit or for God’s benefit? Am I running for my own selfish reasons or for God’s glory? I was getting advice from a vast majority of people who told me conflicting advice and I was at a loss for who to believe and listen too. There was a point in the midst of my disgruntlement where I had completely lost my passion for running. It was to the point where I received no joy from the thing I loved most in the world. However, a friend from high school once told me for every rise in athletics there is a fall and for every fall there is a rise, so I marched on believing God would pull me out of it and restore me to the runner I was. Remaining as patient as I could through the struggles was a hard task for someone who was breezing through running for four straight years. I tried keeping my eyes steadily on God and trusting in Him and how He would work. I started noticing doors open for me outside of running that lead to me being able to share Him with others which eventually would lead to my running returning to normal. Finally at the conference meet, God’s plan and my plan finally synched up and I was able to end the season on a good note. After a season of being humbled and working so hard for what appeared to be so little God finally tossed me a ball and I hit it out of the park.
Outdoor track brought many challenges and obstacles for me to overcome. With momentum finally on my side I anticipated keeping it there for as long as I could. I also was trying the Steeplechase for the first time and was still trying to figure out running for myself and God. As the season rolled on I did my best to balance my faith and running, which was becoming easier as I switched my major to religious studies. I was finding success in the steeple and was finally becoming the runner I always dreamed I could be. The most monumental of the season occurred during the Conference meet, I was running the 5K as a double after a steeplechase earlier in the day. The temperature had be blistering all day but was finally cooling off, the race underwent and quickly became a three person race. With 1000 meters to go in the race I was in third by about thirty meters and was exhausted, I told myself I would more than likely end up getting third in the race. Within moments of thinking this God was pushing me and I surged on until I was leading and with 200 meters left in the race, I had a substantial lead of twenty meters. My body physically shut down at this point, but my heart powered me on, my body tightened up to the point where I was barely moving, stumbling as I crossed the line collapsing, solidifying the third place. I was told I shouldn’t have been able to finish the race, that my body physically wouldn’t let me, but God on that day reigned down upon me and guided me. I don’t remember the last 500 meters of the race, I totally blacked out and as I crossed the finish line I was delusional. God didn’t only bless me with the heart of a lion that I had always prayed for during my struggles of indoor but also with amazing teammates who took care of me and nurtured me back with words of encouragement. I was an emotional wreck beyond belief feeling so disappointed that I physically ran til I couldn’t run any more and it still wasn’t good enough but the race that I was so disappointed in quickly became the race I was most proud of. After that race I was cooling down, somewhat talking to people as I gained my wits again, but twice I knelt down to pray to God and thank Him and both times I was so overcome with joy and humility of God’s greatness that I broke down in tears. It was at that defining moment that I realized why I was running. Through running I have matured faster than I ever thought I would, but I always struggled with why I was running and what the overall reason was directed at.
“I believe God made me for a purpose, but he also made me fast. And when I run I feel His pleasure. “
That’s a quote from Chariots of Fire, that hits the nail right on the head. I discovered that God has blessed me with these talents of being able to run, a joy and passion he placed in my life that I cherish every time I get the opportunity to do it, that He gave me a heart bigger than I could ever imagine, and transforms me through running. I find that God gave me this talent for a reason and while it may not be my main purpose it has opened up so many doors for me in my life especially in my faith. Every time I get the opportunity to run, I run to display the talents that He blessed me with and do so with a smile on my face and joy in my heart. I work as hard as I can and sacrifice everything I have to to show God how appreciated I am of this talent, it’s my way of thanking Him. “Life is God’s Gift to Man. What We Do with It Is Our Gift to God.“ I intend to do everything I can to reach my potential not only as a runner but as a person in life so that I can give back to God for everything He’s given to me. I run to praise the Creator who gave me these blessings and every time I run I wish it to be a gift to God to glorify Him and His greatness.
Outdoor Nationals was something I had never experienced and was very eager to go after my dreams again. It also gave me another step in my faith as I was given the blessing of praying for our team often and being more open with my faith and sharing it with those around me. Over the four day span that we were there I was constantly in prayer for my teammates and for myself. Thankfully God answered all my prayers and gave me one of the most memorable weekends of my life, helping me display the talents that He gave me for all to see. I found through the season that running helped me mature as a person and more importantly help me further my walk with God.