“How’s your training going?”
The simple question catches me off-guard. It’s a common thing to ask a collegiate runner during the summer. It’s a phrase uttered from a well-meaning coach, teammate or family member just trying to make small talk. Yet recently, my answer to the question has fluctuated between “good?” and “I have no idea.”
Truthfully, I have no reason to respond in this way. My training has been going well; I generally feel relaxed, strong and healthy from the moment I link my watch to my last bounding footstep. Still, I hesitate to talk about my training — simply because running has been the furthest thing from my mind.
Strange to read such words on a running-themed blog.
In the past, I obsessed about running 365 days per year; as soon as one season ended, I counted down the days until the next one began. Thoughts of racing circled my mind — in the same manner that I circled tracks in the spring. Running was a key part of my identity, and identities don’t take vacations.
But, investing so much energy into something so fleeting and worldly is exhausting. You board a rickety, emotional rollercoaster when you believe that athleticism is your most valuable God-given gift. Our spiritual gifts transcend our physical gifts, and when I thought otherwise, I neglected the power of the Holy Spirit. In Romans 12:6-8, Paul speaks of the importance and multitude of spiritual gifts:
“In his grace, God has given us different gifts for doing certain things well. So if God has given you the ability to prophesy, speak out with as much faith as God has given you. If your gift is serving others, serve them well. If you are a teacher, teach well. If your gift is to encourage others, be encouraging. If it is giving, give generously. If God has given you leadership ability, take the responsibility seriously. And if you have a gift for showing kindness to others, do it gladly.”
Notice that Paul’s list doesn’t include the gift of sub-18 minute 5Ks. Shocking, I know.
These gifts are central to our identities, since they originate from the Holy Spirit. After reflecting on this passage (and, dare I say, taking a few online quizzes), I believe that my strongest gift is encouragement. For me, worship is a caffeine IV straight to my soul; after spending time with God, I jolt at the opportunity to speak with and lift up others.
I stumbled upon Romans 12 after fearing a growing apathy for running. I worried that not thinking about my training would spiral into a lack of motivation and, consequently, a terrible cross country season. Little did I realize that mentally checking out was the healthiest decision I could make for my training; I was able to focus my identity in eternal rather than temporary gifts.
Of course, my realization about the unimportance of running hasn’t quenched my passion for the sport. I am passionate about many worldly things: hot chocolate, emotional documentaries, fruit-themed jewelry, dogs, pasta salad, and photography just to name a few. But, I don’t spend every second of the day thinking about my banana earrings. That would be insane. Similarly, thinking about running 24/7 is not healthy for the Spirit. It’s just not that important.
BUT, sport is incredible in a different way — it provides us a platform on which we can share our spiritual gifts. We can speak about our faith on long, easy runs. We can serve dinners to our teammates and open up our homes for fellowship. We can teach stretches and give advice to new athletes. We can encourage our teammates during hard workouts and stressful academic periods. We can give extra ponytails and sips from our water bottles. We can lead by organizing team hangouts and setting an example for what it means to compete for Christ. We can show kindness to teammates and coaches going through hardship, sickness or injury.
Running isn’t important in itself; its importance lies in the spiritual opportunities it provides.