I am a runner and, although I’m not going to win for speed any time soon, I am satisfied in my steadily-increasing pace. As odd as it sounds, I credit much of this consistency to my shoes. A devout patron of Brooks, I am more than a little happy with my pairs of their “Ghost” model, follow the Brooks hashtag #RunHappy, and always feel the itch to hit the track when I see their logo.
Of course, I was a runner before I converted to Brooks, but now I feel like part of a team. (Seriously, props to the Brooks PR folk for fostering such a remarkable community of runners.) The logo on my shoes not only inspires me to run, but almost convicts me. My shoes were a gift from my parents and Brooks are not cheap… When I look at them, I am motivated to run when I remember the cost as well as the benefit; I want to train so as to be justified in this gift, as well as to reap the joy that comes with finishing a race well.
Running in itself is a good thing and I desire to do it for my own health. However, a logo for a company I support and a community I am eager to be a member of are, on a low-motivation day, more compelling reasons to continue training.
Often when I run, the following passage comes to mind:
Therefore, since we are surrounded by so great a cloud of witnesses, let us also lay aside every weight, and sin which clings so closely, and let us run with endurance the race that is set before us, looking to Jesus, the founder and perfecter of our faith, who for the joy that was set before him endured the cross, despising the shame, and is seated at the right hand of the throne of God.Hebrews 12:1-2
Perhaps it’s corny to think of running the race of faith as I jog a few miles around the park, but I cannot ignore that the Christian faith is often expounded and experienced through physical representations of spiritual realities. Running around the park is not a race of cosmic endurance, but it can certainly be a reminder. Indeed, if we sharpen our perception, there is an edifying theology to be found in all things…but that is a much longer, later article.
As I ran today, I wrestled within myself— does that count as an extra workout? You see, yesterday, I provided music for my church’s Ash Wednesday service. Having grown up nondenominational, I never much considered the importance of Ash Wednesday or the church calendar aside from Christmas and Easter. However, as the pastor drew the sign of the cross on my forehead and said the following, something moved within my soul.
Ryanne, you are dust and to dust you will return.
I had heard the “dust to dust” phrase before, but when my name was added, I was convicted. Lent is not just a time of extra church services and trying (and failing) to give up chocolate or Netflix; Lent is a time to remember my identity as dust created and recreated in the likeness of my Savior.
But what was I to give up for Lent? The sign of the cross on my forehead was an emblem more powerful than any shoe logo. If I am encouraged to run because of the cost of my shoes and my desire to represent as a Brooks runner, how much more ought I to be compelled by the sign of the cross on my face and — when the ashes have faded — my heart? Did not that emblem come at a price much dearer than any other? Shouldn’t I constantly be considering how I am representing Christ’s name above all else?
As I lapped the park this morning, I was unsure what to do as I did not feel called to give up or change any one thing in particular for Lent. It feels trite to give up something as trivial as dessert and, admittedly, I doubt I have the self-control or will to do so. With each step, I debated what (if anything) I should do and, ultimately, realized that just as a strong runner will implement multiple training techniques to achieve holistic health, I ought to have a cruciform approach to Lent:
I need to Cross train.
The Christian faith is holistic and the cross itself demonstrates this as yet another physical representation of a spiritual reality. Consider its very shape: it stretches up to heaven and down to earth, across lands and tongues and tribes, back through generations and testaments, forward to modern believers and posterity. The cross, so often a focal point in our lives as Christians, reminds us that in our Savior’s death and resurrection, all things are reconciled and we are to seek him in every age, area, and activity:
In him we have redemption through his blood, the forgiveness of our trespasses, according to the riches of his grace, which he lavished upon us, in all wisdom and insight, making known to us the mystery of his will, according to his purpose, which he set forth in Christ as a plan for the fullness of time, to unite all things in him, things in heaven and things on earth.Ephesians 1:7-10
Lent is a time of preparation and reorientation. I did not want to give something up during these forty days just for the sake of giving something up, for while my body might be grateful for a bit less sugar or my mind for a bit less television, these alone will not commend me to God, nor will they truly develop me as a person. When a runner is training, he or she must not focus just on good breath, stride, hydration, etc., although all of these are essential to a successful run. The difference between athlete and average is a holistic attitude.
Now, I do not pretend to be an athlete, but I aspire toward that mentality in my areas of calling. For instance, when I practice piano, I strive to consider technique, musicality, comprehension, and communication in equal temperament. A musician without imagination is a mechanic, but a musician without technique is a disaster; the whole person must be engaged to achieve a level of genuine artistry, just as the whole person must work to achieve true athleticism.
Christ, man and God, is the epitome of this completeness. In this season of Lent as I prepare my heart for Holy Week, I cannot in good conscience forsake a cruciform, comprehensive contemplation in favor of giving up something trivial. Just as in running, I desire that gradual, steady change of heart and health, both physically and spiritually.
But what does this look like practically?
Well, it is no accident that the sign of the cross in ashes is visible. Yes, it washed away with the aid of baptismal waters (and some makeup remover), but it still burns in my mind and heart. It reminds me of my membership in the church, the body of Christ, and influences even my tiniest decisions. This morning, I was tempted not to go for a run because it was oh-so-nice to sit on the couch with a second cup of coffee, but I purposely had left out my Brooks the night before, knowing that if I saw them, I would be reminded of the value of a good run.
In the same way, for Lent (and beyond), I am committed to keeping the sign of the cross ever before my conscience. In doing so, I am finding that those little things I might have given up (certain foods, TV shows, etc.) are no longer appealing. And those things I might have added (longer daily devotions, more prayer time, service for others), are more attractive than ever. When I opened my phone to find something to listen to on my run, I instinctively swiped to a pop workout playlist. But something gave me pause. Would listening to these songs honor the Lord who died for me? It would not necessarily be wrong, but would it be edifying?
Knowing I might not run as fast, I chose to listen to a sermon instead, only to find that I ran farther and better than I expected. This is not because the sermon had a catchy beat, but because it engaged my soul and I felt the reality of this spiritual race as I set forth on an earthly one. I found that even in this simple choice, I was practicing “laying aside every weight” so that I might “run with endurance.”
Consider him who endured from sinners such hostility against himself, so that you may not grow weary or fainthearted.Hebrews 12:3
The reasons I’ve never stuck to Lenten resolutions is because they did not genuinely force me to consider Christ crucified. This year, I am actively considering “him who endured” that I might endure and grow. This is not a burden, believers! This is a resolution we might count all joy, for it is training us as active followers of Christ as we “press on toward the goal for the prize of the upward call of God in Christ Jesus” (Phil. 3:14).
As a runner, sometimes what keeps me moving is keeping the end goal in sight. Let us in this season of Lent keep our most glorious End ever before us, that we might rightly sing:
Be Thou my Vision, O Lord of my heartIrish tune and text
Naught be all else to me, save that Thou art
Thou my best Thought, by day or by night
Waking or sleeping, Thy presence my light