March 22, 2007

Running Together

He runs ahead of me, his shaggy black hair waving in the sunlight. Weeds, lush and green from recent rains, brush against his bare calves, where muscles tighten and relax with every step he takes.

I follow, not far behind. I'm more than twice his age, but I'm determined to at least stay close to him. After the first half mile, I see him take off his shirt. It means he's serious, I guess. I am, too, so I take my shirt off as well.

Normally, I run alone, which means that I'm the one who sets the pace, the one who decides how long the run will be, and which road I'll be taking. I enjoy being independent, in control, and free. When I run alone, I get to do my own thing, and I don't have to compete against anyone.

My attitude toward running is pretty much the same attitude many people have toward church. "I don't need to go to church to be a Christian," they say. "I can be spiritual without being religious. I worship God in my own way."

I never really know how to respond to those who say such things. A part of me agrees with them. A part of me longs for the freedom they have in choosing their own spiritual path, and their ability to set their own pace on the journey of faith. As a pastor, I don't have that freedom.

But as a runner, I do.

Then he comes along and asks if we could run together. I consent, even though I obviously have mixed feelings about this. As soon as the soles of our shoes touch the dirt, he jumps in the lead. Great. Now he gets to set the pace and choose the path. I start to wonder if this is all a big mistake.

I really want to keep up, so I run hard, harder than I've ever run before. My heart is pounding, my lungs are working hard, and my legs are moving fast. Sweat is pouring from my face and down my chest. For the most part, I do keep up. He's never more than a couple of yards ahead of me.

Never before have I run so fast.

It's then that I realize that, running by myself, I had become lazy. I hadn't been pushing myself enough, which meant I hadn't been coming close to achieving what I was capable of. I hadn't been growing in my running ability, or getting any stronger. I had become stagnant.

Without a companion on the path, I never would have realized this. Without him running with me, I would never have known what I was capable of. I ran faster, and better, because of him.

The funny thing is, he ran faster because of me. He knew I was right behind him, and there was no way he was going to let an "old man" pass him.

We ran faster because we ran together.

I now have an answer to those who say they can worship God without going to church: Yes, you can, but if you want to grow in faith, and build some spiritual muscle, then you really need a companion or two. You won't get all you can out of the journey of faith unless you let the church travel with you on that journey. If you want to run faster and grow stronger, you need to run together.


jo(e) said...

What a great metaphor.

Katy said...

Perhaps the perfect message for me at this moment. Right now, it's a struggle to get out of bed in the morning, and even harder to get myself to church. I'm always grateful I went--it's just so hard to get up and go.

Good one.