We were camping this last weekend and my youngest daughter, Grace, wanted to run a mile around the campground in preparation for cheerleading tryouts in June.
We set out together and after about a quarter-mile she said, “Mom, explain to me how you could possibly enjoy this.”
I laughed and once again it made me reanalyze- to try and put into words why I love running so dang much. Most times I say, “I don’t love running; I love having just run.” And maybe that sums it up, as the act of physically getting off my lug nut and breathing hard and sweating, not to mention all the ways running pains my scoliosis spine and u-joints- is, well, yucky. It’s hard. It forces me to step outside the comfy box of complacency and safety and it challenges me to live. But when I have accomplished what I set out to do, there is such gratitude for me, and with gratitude, comes a profound joy.
On so many levels that bodily activity exercises me. More than my physical wellbeing, running is intensely spiritual. It can blend in so nicely with our Catholic faith and was made so clear to me once again over the last month as we have mourned the death of Catholic great- Mother Angelica. She spoke so often on the great value of suffering and that was truly put into action over the last fifteen years of her life- her marathon journey toward spiritual perfection as she silently battled the effects of her illness.
Jesus tells us: “If anyone would come after me, he must deny himself and take up his cross daily and follow me” (Luke 9:23). That’s daily, people. Our Catholic faith teaches us that we must unite our daily crosses to Jesus, we must offer up life’s hardships, disappointments, and, yes, even physical exercise. Our crosses have so much value! If we would only get on board and offer them with a full heart for the conversion of sinners and in reparation to Jesus- most especially in the Blessed Sacrament- for all the humiliations and injustices committed against Him- we would be truly living.
Why do I love running? Because in that self-inflicted pain I find joy! Our Holy Father, Pope Francis just wrote on the “Joy of Love”, and that is what I am experiencing when I get up off the fluffy couch and do that yucky running thing. I put one foot in front of the other and atone- for all those He has given me to love. And I tell ya, there is no greater joy than that.
Running consistently helps me to discipline myself, and through the sacrifice I know I am preparing myself to take on crosses. Big ones. Little ones. It doesn’t matter- the more I work at controlling my mind and body the more apt I am to long for the cross. Now, don’t get me wrong here, I still battle all of this, because, I much prefer chocolate donuts and bubble baths to getting up in the morning and training for a marathon. But I’m a work in progress. You can’t rush this stuff.
Today I’m thinking of all those brave, disciplined souls who are running the 120th Boston Marathon this spring and recalling my experience doing the same thing two years ago. It is forever branded on my heart as one of the most-impacting times of my life, so much so that I am soon to publish my book on the subject: A Catholic’s Road to the Boston Marathon.
In a world that is constantly telling us to take the easy way out and reject any kind of suffering as senseless, Jesus is calling us to take up our crosses and learn from His meek and humble Heart what it means to love. He is calling us to so much more. And if we let Him, he will reveal to us the untold joy there is when we truly love.