On Monday I wrote about endorphins, those neurotransmitters in the brain that have been known to induce euphoria. Today I am writing about another kind of euphoria that can also come from running and exercising…the spiritual kind. Although we have all heard of the slogan “mind, body, spirit“, it can sometimes seem strange to integrate the three in a literal way. One of my favorite quotes comes from the movie, “Chariots of Fire”. In the movie, runner Eric Liddle of Scotland (a missionary and winner of the 400 meters in the 1924 Olympics in Paris) is explaining to his sister his desire to run in the Olympic Games. He says, “God made me for a purpose. But he also made me Fast. And when I run, I feel His pleasure.”
I too, have felt this pleasure. It comes to me when I am enjoying an easy run on a trail, or sometimes when I’m doing a tempo run and I’m “in the zone”. It can even come after a weight workout when I am feeling strong and purposeful. I don’t have to be fast to feel His pleasure, I simply have to be grateful. And I have to be living in the moment. I think this is the key for me. If I allow all the worries or frustrations of the day to get in the way, I can easily find myself dragging through a workout, only grateful to be done with it. This is when fitness becomes a drudgery, and in the end, a lost opportunity.
I am familiar with the concept of sanctifying our everyday work; offering the ordinary things we do for the glory of God. While I have thought about this before in terms of the work I do in and out of the home, I had not really thought about it in terms of exercise. Like work, exercise can become simply a chore. On those days when I drag myself through a workout (hating every minute of it), I may be better off for it physically, but it has done nothing to make me a better person or to bring me happiness. When I compare those workouts to the ones I do enjoy, I know the big difference is gratitude. Like so many things in life, it often takes not being able to do something, to make us appreciate it. For fitness lovers, this usually takes the form of an injury. It prevents us from doing our usual exercise, and when we can finally get back to it, we are suddenly very grateful.
Discouragement comes in other forms, too. Maybe we are trying to lose weight and we can’t seem to reach our goal. Or maybe it’s dropping time in a race, or trying something new altogether. Discouragements can be obstacles for all of us. But living in the moment helps to keep things in perspective. Simply being grateful for the time we have to exercise, for the beauty around us, or for the friendships of those we run with, can be the difference in how we experience it. If fitness is an integral part of who we are, then even our workouts can be opportunities to glorify God. And even setbacks, like injuries or unattained goals, can be seen as temporary, not insurmountable.
A few years ago I found myself stuck. It wasn’t so much discouragement as it was stagnancy. I was in one of those “seasons” when I just wasn’t getting joy from running and working out. Last year changed that. I became the cross country coach for the school my teenaged sons were attending for some classes. In this new role, I found myself telling the kids that through the effort of running, they could discover parts of themselves they had not known before. That if they could dig down deep, there would be great rewards, no matter how fast their times were. In running with these kids (and with my own along for the ride), I began to realize how much I love to run. It was at this same time that I started training for the Marine Corps Marathon, my first marathon in ten years. When it finally came to marathon day, at about mile 12 (before any real pain set in), I experienced the delight of running. From somewhere within, and matched by the adrenaline of race day, I was filled with joy. Maybe you have felt this. If not, I hope you can one day. It certainly didn’t last the entire race, but for those wonderful few miles, I understood the words of Eric Liddell. For just a little while, I thought that if I closed my eyes, I might be flying. Later, reflecting on the race, I knew what I had felt. And to this day, when I experience it, I know what it is… and I can gratefully say, “When I run, I feel His pleasure”…
Have you experienced this pleasure while running, or doing whatever fitness you love to do? Share it with us!