By: Paul J. Morrison
I still remember one of the first times I decided to start running on my own. I was in fifth or sixth grade and the only way I could think to run was to make laps around my front yard as fast as I could until I was simply out of breath. I had no clue what else to do. By the time I was in high school, I would run every summer to stay active before football would start again each fall. At that point, I had a better grasp of the concept.
Quick laps became long miles as I made my way out of my neighborhood and through my small town. As I think back, I never seemed to take the same route. The end of every street became a new decision. I would run to the city square. I would run to the park. I would run around the small loop surrounding our city. It never mattered where I was going. I ran to train. I ran to fill the time. I ran to run. I even enjoyed it a little.
I still ran some in college. Admittedly, less. There was no longer a season to work towards or time to fill. Instead I filled my summers with more classes. My course hours increased and the miles I ran decreased. Sarah and I got married. I put running on a shelf, only occasionally pulling it down and to brush it off.
A month ago, my younger brother asked if I wanted to run a marathon with him. Don’t worry, that’s not where this is going. But the idea of running with purpose sounded so appealing once again. To set a goal, even a small one, and train for it. Half-marathon, 10k, 5k, the distance didn’t matter so much as having a goal in mind. So, in the middle of February, in Cleveland, Ohio, Sarah and I started to run.
5:50 am my alarm went off. We put on as many layers as we could bear to move in. We stepped outside and we ran. The morning air, hovering around 15°, felt like daggers in our lungs. Half a mile down our street, half a mile back. We were so out of shape the first day that we had to alternate jogging and walking to avoid the death that would surely take us if we gave it any more cause. It has only been a month, but slowly, and surely, it is getting easier. We are getting faster (or at least we are walking less).
It is peculiar to think back at how easy running used to be. That I was in shape enough and good enough at it, that it was enjoyable. I enjoy Chariots of Fireas much as the next person, but I am no Eric Liddell. When I run, I do not “feel God’s pleasure.” I feel my legs burn, my asthma flare, and my heart scream. Even a month in, this feels closer to fifth grade, though I am sure eleven-year-old Paul bounced back a little more quickly than his present equivalent. Something that was once so simple that it required little thought or effort is now excruciatingly difficult.
To be fair, February may not have been the wisest time to start running again. Yet I am reminded of that oft-heard proverb applied to so many situations, “the best time to plant a tree is 20 years ago, the second best time is now.”
If you read Sarah’s post last week, you know how difficult it has been for us recently. It has not been much unlike our runs. We had done ministry before, but never in this climate, in this isolation. A mile in Texas is a mile in Cleveland. But while standards of measured distance are the same, any runner will tell you that where you run changes how you run. A mile up a sharp hill and a mile down a steady path are two very different miles. A path in the summer sun is far different than even that same path when it is covered in ice.
Ministry here has often felt like the latter. We have run up a hill with slipping gravel beneath our feet and hail stinging our exposed skin. But we continue to run. We continue to run in this work because Christ is faithful and waiting for us at the end. We continue to run because his grace is sufficient in our weakness and suffering. We continue to run because we are unsure who else would trod this path if we were to abandon it. We continue to run because Christ has called us to run.
As Sarah and I have started running again, one thing has become incredibly clear: it is best to run together. Running together does not change the difficulty of the path, but it equips and encourages us to brave it together. Would you run with us? Would you pray for us, give if you are able, or literally come alongside the work in this place of loving the bride of Christ?
Running is not easy, but it is good.