I laced up my sneakers and packed all of the essentials for my longest training run yet- 11 miles. Breathing in deep through my nose, I pushed off against the greenway path and steadied my pace. Mile by mile, I prayed for the individuals whose names were in my pocket on a 3×5 note card. With the rhythm of my feet on the pavement, and the sound of the rushing water with the river next to me, I entered into a time of communion with God. The rest of my week was packed full and overflowing, loud and chaotic, but in those long runs? It was just the Lord, a chance to clear my mind, and the beauty of the open sky above. When my lungs or legs grew tired, I flipped my index card over to remind myself of that day’s meditation. For that run, I prayed over Isaiah 40:30-31:
“Even youths grow tired and weary, and young men stumble and fall; but those who hope in the Lord will renew their strength. They will soar on wings like eagles; they will run and not grow weary, they will walk and not be faint.”
I wasn’t always a runner. In fact, there are distinct memories burned into my mind of timed tests during physical education classes in school. We were supposed to run laps on the track, and I just remember feeling SO bored from the repetition of the flat red track. I had trouble running a full lap without stopping, so I often just used my long legs to power-walk as fast as I could around the track. Passing the gym teacher, I worked my way up to a jog for as long as I could endure.
But in 2014 I entered into a season that opened up time and space for me to address some areas that I had been neglecting for years. As I took stock of my mental, emotional, spiritual and physical health, I realized that I needed to do a better job of taking care of myself. I entered into a time of counseling, joined a support group, and decided to take better care of my body with healthier eating and exercise. In that period of finding myself again, I decided to become a runner.
When I first started out, I was discouraged that I couldn’t even finish a mile. I pushed too hard. I tried to run too fast. But it was too much too soon! I had to embrace the process and just start small. Run 3 minutes, walk 2. Run 4 minutes, walk 1. Run 5… see if you can keep going. It took a month but I finally was able to run a mile without stopping. It seems like such a small accomplishment, but it represented the beginning of a journey for me.
Eventually, I signed up for 5K’s and regularly ran 3 miles at a time. And in 2016, I signed up to run a fall half marathon in the mountainous college town where I work. During that training time, I decided to press in to the quiet. I started to pray as I ran. This opened up a completely new way of looking at those training runs, and the long stretches of time in my schedule dedicated to race preparation.
Over the coming months, God gave me some amazing lessons about communicating with Him through my half marathon training:
1) Prayer is not a stagnant thing: If I have the image of prayer that only requires me to kneel beside my bed at night or talk to God when I am in the pew at church, I am missing out. God invites us into regular conversation with Him, and wants to be part of every ounce of our day. He invites us to “pray without ceasing” (1 Thessalonians 5:17). We can pray while we drive, walk, parent our children, sit at our desks, cook the evening’s meal, or sit with hurting friends. We can offer up our requests and listen for His voice even in the busyness of weekly routine or in the rhythm of a training run.
“Rejoice always, pray without ceasing, give thanks in all circumstances; for this is the will of God in Christ Jesus for you.” (1 Thessalonians 5:16-18, ESV)
“Continue steadfastly in prayer, being watchful in it with thanksgiving.” (Colossians 4:2, ESV)
2) Scripture is a powerful prayer tool: Over the course of my training, I wrote various words from Scripture onto a 3×5 notecard that I could carry in my pocket. Some were verses that gave me strength or courage to keep pressing into my run, and others were calming Truths I needed during that hard season. When I don’t have the words, I can use words that God gave us to lift back up to Him as a plea, a meditation, or an offering.
3) We are called to pray for others: For most of my life, I think my prayers sounded more like, “Dear Heavenly Father, Gimme, gimme, gimme.” During my long runs, a friend suggested that I pray for a different person each mile. On the back of the notecard with my verse for the day, I also wrote a name next to each mile I was planning to run. Something transformative happens in our hearts when we repeatedly pray for others in our lives. It takes our eyes off our own problems, and joins us as partners in prayer with others who also have needs. My notecard even contained a few names of people I really didn’t want to pray for (people who caused hurt or who I was having a hard time forgiving). And those ten minute miles were usually the most meaningful in my training. I eased my breathing, focused on asking God to bless those people, and to soften my heart towards them. He was and is faithful in answering those prayers.
“Bear one another’s burdens, and so fulfill the law of Christ,” (Galatians 6:2 ESV)
“But I say to you, Love your enemies and pray for those who persecute you,” (Matthew 5:44 ESV)
“And this is the confidence that we have toward Him, that if we ask anything according to His will He hears us,” (1 John 5:14 ESV)
4) Take it one step at a time: Just like training to run 13.1 miles has to be done one step at a time, I cannot jump past all of the hard stuff in my life to get to the finish line. As I worked through sore muscles, shin splints, tired lungs, and adjustments to my protein and caloric intake, I grew in my capacity to listen to my body and learned how to move forward in my training, one run at a time. That same season was filled with many questions about the future and how to move forward, but God taught me to trust Him to lead, one step at a time. I prayed for His wisdom to show me the next right thing, and He used the visual example of my training to remind me to slow down my tendency to run ahead and just listen to Him.
“Show me your ways, LORD, teach me your paths. Guide me in your truth and teach me, for you are God my Savior, and my hope is in you all day long.” (Psalm 25:4-5)
“I will praise the LORD, who counsels me; even at night my heart instructs me. I keep my eyes always on the LORD. With him at my right hand, I will not be shaken.” (Psalm 16:7-8)
“Trust in the LORD with all your heart and lean not on your own understanding; in all your ways submit to him, and he will make your paths straight.” (Proverbs 3:5-6)
Friend, even if you are not running a long race anytime soon, this life is full of challenges that we must press into and endure if we want to grow. I pray that the lessons I learned during my half marathon training would encourage you, no matter what the path ahead of you looks like right now.
“Therefore, since we are surrounded by so great a cloud of witnesses, let us also lay aside every weight, and sin which clings so closely, and let us run with endurance the race that is set before us, looking to Jesus, the founder and perfecter of our faith, who for the joy that was set before Him endured the cross, despising the shame, and is seated at the right hand of the throne of God.” (Hebrews 12:1-2)
P.S. How about you? Are there any helpful lessons you have learned about prayer in your journey? I’d love to hear in the comments below!