The first step is the hardest
Updated: Jun 11, 2020
Something strange happened this morning - I went for a run. Well, at least I think I did. There was definite forward momentum, but if ‘a run’ is defined by some sort of pace, then maybe I went for a ‘controlled fall forwards’ or a faster-than-usual-ish walk. Either way, I was in my running kit, which is the important thing, right!?
Now, for many people, going for a run is a common and frequent occurrence. But not me. I’ve not been for a run for a long time – for over a year, in fact. And before that, it was another year previous. I’ve noticed that I’ve developed an annual running cycle where I only really go for a run when I know I’ve got Tough Mudder coming up and need to get ready for it.
But I’ve noticed during the lockdown the emergence of something vaguely resembling a desire to run. I could easily list the positives associated with going out for a run – relieve stress, good for mental health, lose weight, battle against the sedentary lifestyle, etc, so I’ve known at least cognitively that it’d be a good and worthy thing to do. But I’ve also talked myself out of it many times. However, now I’m back and showered, I want to share three thoughts that we can perhaps learn from.
Those who know me may be surprised to learn that in my youth I was actually a decent runner, and ran competitively. Ironically, given my awareness of how far I had fallen from those days, and how badly I suspected I’d let my fitness slip, I found myself fearful of starting. The ugly reality for me was that I was going to be a lot slower, able to run a lot less distance and would feel the pain and discomfort of starting for a ‘sub-optimal’ point than I wanted to. And because of how I once competed, my feeling of inadequacy and possibly failure was a lot higher.
I wonder if what I’m describing as my physical – and I guess psychological – reality resonates with your faith journey. Think about your own spiritual ‘running’. Do you find yourself reflecting on ‘what was’ from the position you find yourself in now? Do you remember with almost self-directed envy the ways in which you used to serve the Lord and the ways He used you? Do you lament your ‘out-of-shapeness’ for His purposes? Maybe you want to get back in the race. Possibly you’re aware of the areas you’ve taken a backward step in and want to put wrong things right, but you’re fearful. ‘What if God doesn’t want to use me any more’, ‘It could never be like it once was’ and other such intimidating thoughts can stop you before you begin. The giant of ‘how things once were’ can scare you off from ever stepping up and going again.
But the second thing that struck me as I continued the embarrassing venture I’m liberally branding a run was that unfitness didn’t come upon me in a moment. I transitioned from being a runner into being a footballer and playing rugby, and happy many happy days playing both sports, and I was still fit. So how did I get to where I found myself this morning? Neglect. A takeaway here, a choice of comfort over inconvenience of exercise there and slowly, over time, as my exercise level decreased, so too did my fitness levels. I didn’t wake up one morning and find it had gone overnight. Instead I woke up one morning and found that years of neglect, of choosing other things and not giving priority to what’s important left me where I didn’t want to be. The Bible tells a similar tale of a character called the sluggard. This person finds his field overrun with weeds and his boundaries knocked down. Why? Because his attitude was ‘a little sleep, a little slumber’. In other words – comfort, ease, convenience first; other areas which should be a priority later. The problem is that by the time later comes, the metaphorical garden is a mess. Or to use the running analogy, he’s grotesquely unfit.
Do you feel a million miles from being close to God? Do you wonder where the passionate, indefatigable faith you once had has gone? Or does following Jesus feel like a labour, a chore – just plain old hard work? Hear me – you didn’t go from A1 to this overnight. Somewhere, the important things have been neglected. Communion with God forsaken; time alone in prayer and seeking Him in His Word relegated to obligatory to-dos instead of primary sources of delight and sustenance. The immediate and fleshly-satisfying chosen over the not easily discerned benefit of the spiritual disciplines. Take a moment. Think about where you are. Honestly. And then think (again, honestly) about how you got there. What changed?
The third thing that happened as I continued my morning’s step-by-step humiliation was that shame kicked in. ‘It’s a good job no-one can see you’, I thought to myself. The problem was, I had my phone on and Strava was clicking my every slow step. So then I had a dilemma – should I just delete the activity when I get home so no-one can see how bad it is? ‘Maybe’, I told myself, ‘I just need to do a few months of running to get to a better standard before I publish my activities for all to see.’ Shame was causing me to hide. The fear of people knowing the state I was in was keeping me from sharing the journey. Does the fear of what people may think of where you find yourself spiritually cause you to keep shtum? Do you want to iron out all the wrinkles in private and just show people the improved you?
I’m glad I went for the run this morning. Even though it was ugly and a bit of a humbling experience, and I’m glad I shared the Strava record. It could be that God is inviting you to do the equivalent of go for a run. Get your running kit on, and get out. Don’t let the fact that you’re not where you were stop you. Start from where you are – with repentance and with commitment to getting to know God again and getting back in shape. And share your journey with someone. Invite someone in - someone who will cheer you on, encourage you and pray for you.