Wednesday, September 29, 2010

Deal With It Small

Injuries can be subtle, yet nefarious characters. If caught soon enough and properly tended to, then they can be dealt with and cause limited disruption to the regular training plan. If small injuries are ignored, or if they are actually more significant than they may first seem, then they often rise up and demand attention. The most frustrating aspect of being injured to me is that the injury takes away the ability to perform without taking away the desire. The "want to" remains, but the "able to" is gone--temporarily.

My friend Jim from church put this in perspective when he mentioned that several years ago he had run a long race through what he thought was a minor injury. He ended up losing an entire year of activity to recovery. So I feel a little better about not running this coming Sunday.

I think that the "deal with it small" principle applies in other areas of life as well. With interpersonal relationships, if we deal with issues while they remain small, then the friendship can most often be salvaged. If we wait until the issues become huge, then we may have sacrificed the friendship on the altar of "maybe it will get better on its own."


In the marketplace, if we deal with frustrations and problems while they are still small, then we give ourselves a way to improve the situation. If we wait until things get big, then we sometimes feel like our only option is to quit that job and look elsewhere. If we deal with the incipient coldness-of-heart toward God at the first touch of chill, then we can restore that relationship quickly to its intended closeness. If we wait for the full onset of hard-heartedness, then we often find ourselves far down a road that we really don't want to be walking on--and with a long way to get back to the warmth and light of home.

It may not feel fun to deal with the issues, but again, they will not get better on their own--if you just ignore them. A wise person once said, "Do the next right thing--again and again."

Pressing On!

Tuesday, September 14, 2010

The Power of Symbols

If you were to see the Liberty Bell in the back of a pickup truck driving through your neighborhood, you might think nothing of it. (If you didn't notice the crack and know what bell it was.) The power of the Liberty Bell is more in what it represents, than in what it is. This shouldn't be surprising. Look at the other symbols around you. My wedding band has a limited value because of what it is made of, but that doesn't even begin to compare to the value of what it represents--26 years of making a home and a life with my best friend. Do you ever get a little choked up when the national anthem is played? Or when you see the flag standing out in a stiff breeze, do you feel a sense of pride welling up inside your chest? The value of a symbol is in what it reminds us of. And the more that something cost us to achieve, the greater the value of the symbol.

I have kept lots of running race shirts and medals. A couple are favorites because they are immensely comfortable, but the ones that I value the most are the ones that I worked hardest to get. My Goofy shirt and medal may be the most treasured. Not because they are inherently worth much of anything, but because of what they represent--39.3 miles of running over two days and months of training beforehand. My Afton Trail Run medal is another that I treasure, both because of the effort involved and because of running it with Abby (if by with you mean on the same day as). I value my starfish medals because they remind me of the semi-tradition of running the Holiday Halfathon each December and getting to see my family at the same time.

Sometimes these symbols also remind me of what I have been able to accomplish. Many days I do not feel like a very good runner. I am not very fast and it doesn't always feel like my body appreciates what my mind and will are telling it to do. Those are the times that I need to be reminded that there have been times that I have endured or overcome significant physical challenges. That reminder often serves as the encouragement that I need to start the next run.

Without symbols, we tend to forget. I think that is why God had the Israelites set up various reminders of what He had done to show His power and mercy on their behalf. Upon crossing into the Promised Land they were told to take stones from the middle of the Jordan River and create a monument on dry land. Why? So that in the future, when some little kid asked, "What are those rocks for?" the people could answer, "To remind us that God held back the river so that we could cross into this land." The strength and awe would not be in the rocks themselves, but in what the rocks represented.

What symbol can you set up to remind you of something significant that you might otherwise forget? To recall some way that God has been powerful for you? Some amazing time of family love and cohesiveness? A valued friendship? Claim a symbol--never forget.

Pressing On!

Monday, September 13, 2010

Freedom from ... Freedom for ...

Freedom seems to be a pervasive human ideal. Whether people are free, or remain yearning to be free, freedom is a rallying cry, a driver of heroic effort, and deemed worth extreme sacrifice to secure or preserve. The Liberty Bell serves as one of those reminders to us of our country's emphasis on freedom. The events of the past week have served to shine spotlights of different colors on our notions of freedom. At the core, I believe that there are two types of freedom--freedom from; and freedom for.

Our early patriots were seeking freedom from what they viewed as oppression from the tyranny of a distant king and empire. But they also had clear ideas of what they were seeking freedom for. They were not merely wanting to be free--like a zoo animal suddenly released from its cage. They wanted to do something with their freedom. The early patriots wanted to be free to pursue life, liberty, and happiness. Did they achieve what they set out for? Some may have, but many died in the effort to secure freedom for their children, neighbors, and friends.

What is it about freedom that makes it such a compelling ideal to pursue? Is it a God-given right? Is it the ability to chart our own course, determine our own path? Whatever it is about freedom that makes it worth pursuing, we seem to have forgotten that freedom carries with it responsibility. A piece in the New York Times got me thinking. ( Contemporary America seems to want freedom without responsibility. Lack of constraints without values. Freedom from anything that "holds me back," but not freedom for something of meaning or value.

What do you want to be free from? Debt? 25 extra pounds? A stifling job? A boring church? A suffocating spouse? Limited education? Why? What will that "freedom from" put you in a position to pursue? Before going after the freedom from, it may be a good idea to get a handle on the freedom for. And sometimes we need to get a good handle on the freedom for so that we can endure through the difficulties of getting freedom from.

The church of this generation has done a great disservice by preaching a gospel of freedom from without the concomitant freedom for. Freedom from condemnation is a fine thing--actually better than fine. But I do not believe that freedom from condemnation was ever God's stopping point. He has always wanted His people and His church to be about more than just freedom from.

We are set free to pursue a life of service and devotion. Of deep-seated joy and mission. Of living for someone and something bigger and greater than ourselves. And we are freed from condemnation so that we can be free to live in this new way. Why cheapen what God has done by just making it about not going to hell? Why not embrace the fullness of what God frees us for--a new way of living? Sure, it may not sound like so much fun. It may not be as "attractive." It may not get as many people to give as much time or money or want to join. But that really isn't the issue, is it? I certainly want as many people as possible to know that they can be free of condemnation, but even more so, I want those who are free from condemnation to know that they are also free to live a new kind of life. A life of service and self-sacrifice. A life of integrity and wholeness. A life that does not merely have a spiritual component, but where the spiritual is what brings all of life together and gives it holistic meaning.

Why settle for freedom from, when you can pursue freedom for as well?

BTW, this line of thought also relates to running, but that is for a different post.

Pressing On!

Sunday, September 12, 2010

Iconic Run

There are very few iconic runs in American popular culture. In fact, just two come to mind--Forrest Gump's "Run Forrest, Run!" and Sylvester Stallone's Rocky run up the steps of the Philadelphia Museum of Art. This afternoon I ran Rocky's run, and then some. I don't remember having been to Philadelphia (in the city) as an adult. I have flown in and out of the airport many times, but this is the first time to be in the city. I am impressed. With so much of our nation's early history having been made here, I am hoping to see the Liberty Bell and Independence Hall after my meetings tomorrow.

I ran about 11 miles from downtown past the Museum of Art and then out the Fairmont Park trail (which apparently goes all the way to Valley Forge). Along the river it was beautiful--the lazy river and rowing teams out seemingly flying up and down the river. There are public sculpture and flower gardens all along the parkway and there were scads of people out running and biking and walking.

The only disappointing part of today's run was realizing that I will not be ready to run Twin Cities in three weeks. Too much missed training and too many nagging injuries that just are not going away (or even getting marginally better). I initially was going to run the race at Hannah's behest, but now that her new husband is running with her, I think that I will be OK with cheering her along at various points along the race course. It is a tough decision, but it is time to listen to what my body is telling me and to be grown up about it. It will be a different role, but I think that I will be OK with it in the end.

Go Hannah! Go Paul! Go Jeff!

Pressing On,

Friday, September 10, 2010

Trading "Not Fun" for Fun

I suppose that it is part of growing up--that moment when a person realizes that sometimes you need to do what is not fun in order to have fun later. This week of running has not been fun. Nagging injuries, adding soccer officiating to the workout schedule, unseasonably cold weather. But I find some consolation in the reality (I hope) that these not fun days will allow October 3rd to be more fun than the last time. These days much of life seems to be that way.

Frankly, my faith journey has often seemed much the same. In order to become who I truly desire to be--a growing, thriving child of God--I often need to do things that I do not feel like doing. I rarely feel like pursuing self-denial and a focus on others. I rarely feel like showing compassion when it is "costly" to me. I rarely feel like going out of my way to benefit someone else, especially when they cannot offer me something in return. But when did feeling like doing or not doing something become the ultimate measure? Shouldn't the end result be the ultimate measure? If feeling like it were the determiner of what gets done, how many of us would have ever been born? (From what I hear, pregnancy is no picnic, not to mention childbirth.)

If how I feel about something is not the measure, then what is? How about some objective truth? I have staked my life on the objective truth of the Bible--that what God says goes. When God says that seeking the benefit of others ahead of my own benefit is the way to live, then I will strive to make that my choice. When God says that being compassionate is His preference, then I will strive to become a more compassionate person. And who knows, maybe at some point God's preferences will also become my own?

And in the meantime, I believe that God gets to say. After all, it is His universe. And by the way, on October 3rd, I will not be able to stop running at mile 19 and call it a completed marathon. Whether I feel like going 26.2 will not matter. All that will matter is getting to the end of the course that has been measured by someone who gets to say.

Pressing On!

Tuesday, September 7, 2010

Turning Seasons

This morning's run was a bit of a shock--about 50 degrees, windy, and rainy. What happened to summer? We will almost certainly still get some hot weather, but the new season is upon us. In my town, today is the first day of school. Which seems a bit strange since it will be the first "first day" in nearly 20 years that we have not put someone on the bus for the start of a new adventure. A marker of the year no longer applies to my life. In years to come I will need to find other ways to mark the passing of summer into fall. No more trips to the store for pencils, folders, and notebooks. No more open house where we scramble to make it to every classroom to meet every teacher before the kids tire of the exercise. No more "first day" pictures on the front steps.

Out running this morning I was thinking that my "frontiers" of running in this new season will also need to change. My next running target will not likely be a longer distance, a faster pace, or a more challenging race. In some ways I will need to find satisfaction in doing the same or less, rather than always striving for faster and farther. I don't feel like this is settling for mediocrity. I feel like it is an inevitable fact of life. I should not need to stop running, but I am not 25 any more and, generally, I will not get faster or find it easier to run farther.

Can I move into a new season of how I measure and value my running? Is there some different aspect of the run that I can find challenging and satisfying? Do I need to look outside myself--to others--to find satisfaction in their running accomplishments? I am so proud of Hannah and my friend Jeff. Neither have really been runners, but they are well on their way to getting to the starting line, and then finishing the Twin Cities Marathon. A year ago Jeff would have laughed at the notion that he would run a 20-miler (last Saturday) and be walking around on Sunday just like nothing had happened. Be he is discovering joy in a place where he never expected it.

At some point, many people run into this dynamic in their faith. The quick growth has slowed to a more moderate pace. Does that mean that I am not growing? Has my faith lost its vitality? Am I growing cold-hearted toward the things of God? I am realizing more and more that the way to find an ongoing dynamic of faith is to build into the next spiritual generation. Simply doing more of what I have been doing will not ultimately be satisfying. The move from player, to player-coach, to coach will be what keeps things fresh. Now I just need to find some players who need some coaching.

Pressing On!