I guess I’m like a lot of other folks with good intentions but poor self-discipline when it comes to eating and exercise. In five weeks time, I hope to change all that.
Every year I train for the Country Music Half-Marathon, and every year I complete it in over two hours. Last year I posted my personal best of 2 hours and 6 minutes. Pathetic. Do you want to know why it was pathetic? Because I half-trained for the half-marathon last year. I changed nothing about my eating, got out and ran half the amount of time I should have, lost no weight, came in at 2 hours 6 minutes – and here’s the pathetic part – was happy about it.
Now I know what many of you are going to say. “Stop beating yourself up, Joiner. Lots of people sat on their couches eating doughnuts that very morning while you were running the streets of Nashville. At least you got out and did it.” I know that’s true. Some of the spectators had the temerity to eat the doughnuts right there on the sidelines in our full view. So, yes, I know there are points for trying. I understand grace (most of the time).
But here’s the thing. I know there’s a whole world out there waiting for me, just beneath the surface of things. What possibilities will open up if I run every training run in my training plan? Where might things lead if I actually ate healthy portions and lost twenty pounds? How might my life be different – and the life of my family – if I went all in, weaned myself off cholesterol medication, and actually began feeling more energy with which to love, care, and live life? I sense that world, waiting to be discovered, waiting for me to get serious.
I suspect Lent is much the same way for many of us. We mean to engage the spiritual disciplines of prayer, study, worship, meditation, simplicity, and so on. We have good intentions. But life gets in the way, and soon enough all those good intentions go out the door as we become the equivalent of couch-potato Christians.
It’s not that God loves us less because of this failure, and it is certainly not true that we are somehow less than baptized children of God because we come up short. Those of us who are Presbyterian and Reformed believe we do not earn God’s favor and that our relationship with God is not based on a divine brownie point system.
But we sense – do we not – that there is a world out there we are missing, a depth of love and grace and peace that God longs for us to experience, but which we cannot see. We cannot see it because we have not trained enough in the language of prayer, in the discipline of study, or in the countless other ways by which we are enabled to recognize God’s grace. This lack of vision will not keep God from coming to us in grace, and it will not keep God from welcoming us as God’s children. What it will do is impoverish us, keeping us plodding along, happy with things as they are, and completely oblivious to the glory that lies just beneath the surface.
I for one am tired of plodding along. Take a good look at the photo of at the top of this post. I won’t look that out of shape much longer (my apologies to John Leggett, but this was the only recent photo I could use as a “before” shot).
Today is March 14.
Today, I weigh 205 pounds.
Today, I run a 9:45 mile.
Today, I train at half intensity two or three days a week.
Today, I eat what I want when I want.
The Country Music Half-Marathon is April 25.
Time to get serious.
In forty-two days I will weigh 185 pounds.
In forty-two days I will run a 9 minute mile.
In forty-two days I will run the County Music Half-marathon in under two hours.
All of this I will not do on my own. I have a wonderful support system in my family, in my church community, and I hope in all of you reading this blog. It’s been there all along; I have been the one hesitant to accept it. One can never embark on anything of substance alone.
More than this, however, I know that I can do nothing absent the grace of God in Christ, in whom I live and move and have my being. Each breath, each step, each day, all of it is gift. It’s time I used the gifts I have been given. But make no mistake, all such gifts, all so-called “self” discipline, begins and ends in God.
Kind of like Lent.