Back in the days of high school I ran track. This was an ideal sport for me as I could still be a part of a team while participating on an individual level where a lackluster performance might not provoke the dreaded angry disapproval of my teammates. My fear of disappointing my team quickly dissipated, however, when I discovered I could run. Fast. And I loved it.
My first coach was tough and while I no longer feared my peers, I maintained a healthy respect toward him even when he pushed us mercilessly. We all grumbled and complained about the unfairness of it all – the heat, the long practices, the repeats – once we were certain he couldn’t hear us, of course. But when it came time to compete and we walked away with the medals, we loved him. It had been worth it.
My next coach was kinder. She was tough enough to drive us to new pr’s and prepare us for further competition while recognizing that kids still need to be kids and smiled more than she frowned. I remember the exasperated roll of her eyes when I would cross the finish line and she would be asking me, yet again, why I was blowing bubbles with my gum as I was running… I remember learning how to pass and receive the baton during relays. I remember learning how to use a starting block. I’m sure we were given other instructions and coaching on how to be a good runner but it evidently went in one ear and out the other. I just ran.
Quite a few years later I became friends with a real runner. He would go on 50 mile fun runs (can those words really be used together???)! He was my boss and my friend and through the hours we spent together at work he taught me about running. He coached me without being my coach and I learned a lot about running form and how important it is if you want to make the most of your time on the pavement.
First he taught me about breathing. Yes, I already knew how to breathe, but not so much when I was running. He taught me to pay attention to my breathing as I ran and to keep it rhythmic and in concert with my steps. This took concentrated effort, especially when I was attempting to run faster or farther or uphill. He taught me that if I couldn’t get my breathing under control that I should slow down until I could. I didn’t want to slow down, I wanted to go faster. But erratic breathing would only cause me to miss what I was aiming for. Hearing myself gasping for air was not encouraging and would cause my mind to scream “I can’t do this!”.
Next he taught me to relax. While running. Again with the words that sound like they don’t go together! I have a strong tendency when I am pushing myself harder to tighten my shoulders, clinch my fists, and keep my arms close to my chest, all of which require more energy and actually make the run harder. Again it takes concentrated effort to drop my shoulders, loose my fingers, and allow my arms to lower. It is possible to greatly relax my upper body while engaging every muscle in my lower body in the act of running. It makes it so much easier.
Lastly he taught me to pay attention to my feet. This wasn’t as hard to do as learning to breathe properly and relax, but I had to apply the effort to pay attention to my foot placement. He had previously “coached” me through race walking where correct form is to put one foot directly in front of the other. However, should you attempt this form while running it is an invitation to kiss the pavement along with creating some serious knee issues. I had to pay attention to where my feet were placed and to get good running shoes. It made all the difference.
Those lessons were learned many years ago. Now, I never hold my arms close to my chest when I run. I always wear good shoes and rarely deviate from proper foot placement. But you know what? Quite often I still find myself clenching my fists or tightening my shoulders. My mind covers many things when I run and if I’m not paying attention, before long I am expending energy that is unnecessary. Once I realize it, I lower my shoulders, shake out my hands, and relax. Good form makes the run easier and more enjoyable (perhaps words some of you would never use together, but stay with me…) and in the end helps me accomplish the goal.
God has been coaching me in grace. He has been teaching me the rhythms of breathing Him in and out. He has been guiding me to rest and relax as we move together in the mission of this life. He is placing my steps as I move ahead in this life race even when I am unsure where we are headed. But I have to pay attention. When I’m distracted by the many things that press in on my life, I find myself very often clenching my fists and tightening my shoulders just to get through, temporarily forgetting that there is an easier way. He calls me back every time. He calls me away from what is natural to me into His nature, His way of doing things.
I notice when people run with less than good form. And the world notices when the namesake of Christ move through this life with bad form. It will not be our angry discourses or ridiculous attempts to defend God (do we really think that He needs our defense?) that will win the world to Him. It will not be our glaring disapproval of our teammates whose performance doesn’t meet our standards. It will not be when we hold our anger and resentment and unforgiveness tightly to our chests. It will not be our gasping for air through the difficulties of life. It will be when we learn the unforced rhythms of grace. It will be when we walk in His nature displaying that we have been made in His image, free from clenched fists and stiff shoulders, free to give out what has been so lavishly given to us. This is what will make the world hungry for Him.
“Are you tired? Worn out? Burned out on religion? Come to Me. Get away with Me and you’ll recover your life. I’ll show you how to take a real rest. Walk with Me and work with Me – watch how I do it. Learn the unforced rhythms of grace. I won’t lay anything heavy or ill-fitting on you. Keep company with Me and you’ll learn to live freely and lightly.” Matthew 11:28-30 MSG
Grace is good form and good form is important.
“Good form is important ” (another God speaks running segment) was written by Kay Stinnett and first appeared on http://www.ourpassionatepurpose.com