I never understood people who run. Why put yourself through so much unnecessary torture? Granted, I did not have experience running, aside from being instructed to run a mile once a year in middle school as part of the school's physical education program. But running (well, mostly walking) a mile in my knee-length plaid skirt and thick blouse once a year didn't give me much perspective about how to run or how to find the joy in running.
Joy in running? Is there such a thing?
As I grew older, I started to hear about this strange cultural phenomenon called the 5k run. To support different causes, people would dedicate their Saturday mornings to run 3.1 miles in a group. As if that's not weird enough-after all, Saturday mornings are for Mass and coffee and good books and garage sales-it gets even stranger. They would pay to do this! Being tortured into running as part of a P.E. class is one thing, but paying to undergo that torture is a whole other level of insanity.
And then I started meeting people who run marathons and half-marathons. And don't even get me started about the ultramarathon that a friar from my Alma Mater just trained to run. I can't even comprehend this.
But here's the thing about runners: Once you get to know them, they find a way to inject their enthusiasm for running into conversations. They slowly, gradually start bringing a radical concept into the forefront of your mind: Running can actually be good, even fun. And then they casually bring up the Couch to 5k program, which makes the whole process of running sound utterly simple. You notice that these runners are joyful, healthy, and have an extra spring in their step. That looks kind of nice, you think. And then, somehow, you find yourself purchasing a pair of shoes and hauling yourself out of bed while the toddler sleeps as you greet the morning air with your aching legs and pattering feet.
I don't consider myself a runner. I've only seriously been running for a month, and I don't always enjoy it. Each time, within just a few minutes of my run, my legs feel like they will fall off and I have no desire to push through. And yet, I run on. Why put myself through this torturous routine two to three times a week? Why join the ranks of those who I would formerly have marked as out of their minds?
There are many benefits of running, and a variety of reasons why I run, but there is one main reason why I put myself through this each week:
I run because there are hurting people in this world. People who are suffering. People who need conversion. People who need healing. People who need hope. And running is my offering, my prayer, my sacrifice that I make for them. While it's all fine and good to curl up in our cozy homes with our Bibles and prayer books, we cannot forget the value of offering a difficult sacrifice for others. The path to the Cross is not easy, and as we push through the discomfort of our sacrifices, we can unite ourselves to our suffering Lord.
When I run, I am not able to focus on a lengthy prayer like the Rosary. Instead, I pray short prayers throughout, or let my mind and heart drift while I focus on making it to the next tree...and the next...and the next. I want to give up, I want to turn around and go home, but I keep on-the Jesus Prayer becoming my focus as I push forward.
Lord Jesus Christ, Son of God, have mercy on me, a sinner.
And I think about those I'm offering this run for. My hardworking, sacrificial husband. The difficult situations people in my parish or community are undergoing. The persecuted Christians throughout the world, particularly the Middle East. And their persecutors, who are in such desperate need of conversion and healing.
I am not a runner, and I am not very fast or good at it (St. Paul, don't worry, I'll work on the "run so as to win" part). Yet, I still can make this offering, as imperfect as it is. I have faith that God takes all of our prayers and sacrifices and uses them for His work.
And so I run. To God be the glory!