It’s finally warming up here in Iowa and, although I am glad to run outside once more, I am confronted by the fact that even outdoor running has its restrictions. I must hold my pepper spray if I am running alone. I must carry a water bottle if I plan to run any significant distance. I must charge my watch to track my miles. I must have my phone in my pocket in case of emergency and my inhaler in the car in case of an asthma attack. The best runs are typically those when I can throw off these weights—when I know the trail is safe, that there is a water fountain ahead, that I can depend on mile markers for my location, and can rely on the good health of my lungs.
These uninhibited runs occur rarely, but they are valuable not only in the freedom which they offer but in the freedom which they foreshadow. As so often happens, running becomes a mode of working out my salvation, if not through fear and trembling, at least through excessive sweating. As I run, burdened by the articles I must carry for my safety and health, I look forward to when I can run—spiritually as well as physically—without unnecessary weight.
St. Paul frequently uses running as an analogy for fruitful evangelism and endurance in the faith. He calls believers to only hold onto those things that are helpful and to throw off anything that would hinder our perseverance and our witness. It is marvelous to run without wheezing, without gripping pepper spray, without the chaffing of water bottle handles or the buzzing of my phone. How much more wonderful will it be when I can at last run without the burden of my own sin? Right now, I am training so that I no longer rely upon my inhaler and water bottle. I have already learned to run without headphones, preferring silent contemplation to constant sound. What if, likewise, I strove to live without my temper? My bitterness? My ambition and pride?
I will never run completely unburdened in this life—at least not physically. But through steady, forward growth I can learn to live unhindered by my sin, running to be worthy of the race which, in Christ, has already been won. As I gear up for another long run, my prayer is that the things I must carry to run on earth will point me toward the things I must abandon to run toward heaven.