When I first started running competitively, I realized that running could never consume me. It could never become my identity. Who I am in Christ is where I find my identity. Who I am rests in the fact that I am His child, holy and dearly loved. And though He has brought many passions into my life, including running, not one of them is essential. “I can receive His blessings with open hands. Enjoy His good gifts, but I do not cling to them. I must turn my attention to the Giver of all good things, and rest in the knowledge that I am complete in Him. The one thing I absolutely need is the One thing that I can never lose: God’s presence with me.” (Jesus Calling) Over the last three years, and more specifically the last seven months, my Sweet Lord has put me to the test in regards to who I am and finding peace in His presence alone.
On December 1st, 2012th, I was at the Memphis Marathon as an invited athlete. It wasn’t a deep field and I was seeded first. I was ready not only to win the race, but run my best marathon time yet. Little did I know that by mile 13, I would walk off the course frustrated and defeated, with a small annoying ache in my achilles. An ache that would eventually side-line me from any serious training and racing. An ache that would not, and has not gone away, for almost three years. An injury, that for the time being, has taken one of my greatest pleasures in life away from me…running.
During 2013 and 2014, it seemed I was going from doctor to doctor trying to figure out what was wrong with my foot and how to correct it. After more than two years of trying physical therapy and every conservative treatment available for achilles pain, I came to the realization that the only hope of curing the pain was to under-go surgery. This was something I wanted to avoid, but considering I couldn’t run or even walk without excruciating pain, I knew it was something that needed to be done.
On March 17th, 2015 I went in for achilles debridement surgery, as well as the removal of a bone spur, and a strayer procedure on my calf. I knew this was not going to be an easy surgery or an easy recovery. I had accepted in my mind, to the best of my ability, that after surgery I would not be able to run for at least six to twelve months.
Post-surgery I was relieved that I had taken the final step in curing my foot and I was determined to focus on recovery. I was in a hard cast and on crutches for the first twelve weeks. Of course, I thought about running, but I seemed to be content with not being able to do so. However, there did come a time when I would see someone out running and it would sting a bit. I had to constantly remind myself that healing was in God’s hands, God’s timing, not mine.
When I was finally off the crutches and out of the cast I went directly into the boot for four weeks. I was still doing okay mentally but I kept thinking to myself, “I took me so many hours, so many hard workouts, so much sweat, so much time, to get to the level I was at in the years past.” Would I ever be able to get it back? I found that I was looking back and wishing I could be there. I longed for the time when running was fun, easy, and fast. I wanted to be in the past, training hard and winning races. Christ, gently nudged me out of the past and reminded me, that while I can look back and miss it, I must not look back and be sad. I must look back and be thankful that I was there, knowing that the past and my experiences have shaped me into who I am today. I must look back and thank Him for the accomplishments I was able to achieve and then bring my focus to today, the present, where I am now, and trust that “He is doing a new thing!” (Isaiah 43:19)
Through this process, I have asked the question why a thousand times. Why would You take running from me when You know it is a passion of mine? Why would you take this from me when I’ve been able to achieve so much with it? Why would you take this when I have so many friends who are still running and setting new PR’s each year? Why do I have to sit on the side-lines and watch as they go after their goals? Why would you take this from me, especially when I have tried my best to use my running for You, to lift You up and make You known. Why? And I have learned it’s okay to ask the question why. But, I have also learned I can’t get stuck there. It’s not my job to figure out God’s ways. He is in control. It is His plan for my life, not mine. And if, I can glorify God by not running, better than I can glorify Him with running, I will gladly open my hands and release my dreams, my goals, my running to Him.
In so doing, I’ve been able to rest, to stop striving, and to wait for God’s “glorious unfolding.” I do not know what that unfolding means in regards to my running and what the future may hold. There’s a big chance I may never be able to train and race again. I might not even be able to run recreationally. But, whatever the outcome, it’s okay, because I know He can restore my broken and unfinished dreams and He can use them in new and creative ways for His glory. My passion for running is still there, but God is replacing it with an overwhelming passion for Him, to know Him better. I’m finding that the better I know Him, the more I want to know Him, and the more I want others to know Him. He is my biggest passion and I know He is greater than any award I can win through running. And now, “forgetting what lies behind and straining froward to what lies ahead, I press on to win the prize for which God has called me heavenward in Christ Jesus.” (Philippians 3:14)
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I’ve been down the road of rediscovering self after, in my case, an obsession with running. While I never enjoyed your level of running success, like you, I had my focus re-adjusted to realign with Jesus. I struggled to understand who I am. Anyone honest I think always does. But I am thankful I was displaced from my obsession. I have seen — even recently — marriages and families ruined because of the egos which wrap around athletics.
No matter how fast we run, we all slow down. Eventually, we never run again. Who, then, are we? I’m glad you know.
Tony, I agree! I always remind my kids (and myself) that they have to find their identity in Christ. If they find it in sports or academics etc, they can easily lose it and be left wondering “who am I?” I’m trying to come to terms with the fact that I might not run again. It’s hard to accept but I’d rather be at peace with it and eagerly look to Jesus and take hold of the other plans He has for my life.
A challenge I have similarly had is not transferring one false identity with another. With my profession, it is easy to feel unduly proud of myself. Every time a client takes the stage and receives applause, I cheer for myself. There can be a problem with that as well.
You’ve been at this for years. I’ve been in and out of good shape. My days of picking off runners are a long time ago, but your transition is ahead. The enemy is bound to attack. You write well and think well. I’m curious what’s ahead.
Interesting, I was just talking with someone the other day about finding freedom in Christ. Victory is available to us, but I struggle to claim it at times. And you’re so right, we have to be careful not to exchange one false obsession or addiction with another instead of living in the true freedom Christ has freely given us!