Finding a Stride
When I was 16, I would roll out of bed, slip on my running shoes, open the front door of our house in the country, whistle for our dogs and start my morning run. Within seconds, both dogs would be at my side and then bolt ahead down the dirt road. After about 10 minutes, I found my stride. My breathing settled into a relaxed rhythm, my arms pumped a steady beat and my legs propelled me along that dirt road cooling my face with the crisp morning air.
I loved those mornings. It's been a long time since those days.
Someone asked me the other day what my stride looks like. I have to admit; I didn't quite know how to answer. Living with chronic pain means that days look entirely different from each other. Energy and pain vary and both affect sleep. On a good day, I'm able to plan a schedule and follow through. On a bad day, I'm cancelling plans, asking for help and managing symptoms. The ability to find a stride is difficult.
Many of us have a desire to find that one thing, one pursuit, one career, one relationship, and settle into it, finding a comfortable place and excelling in that area. But as I've been reading through Hebrews this month, I've become aware that the strides of the great heroes of faith look very different than that.
"The fundamental fact of existence is that this trust in God, this faith, is the firm foundation under everything that makes life worth living. It’s our handle on what we can’t see. The act of faith is what distinguished our ancestors, set them above the crowd." Hebrews 11:1-2 (The Message)
Then, the writer of Hebrews lists the names of these men and women of faith: Abel, Enoch, Noah, Abraham, Sarah, Isaac, Jacob, Joseph, Moses, Israel, Rahab, Gideon Barak, Samson, Jephthah, David, Samuel and the prophets . . . and reminds us of this:
"Not one of these people, even though their lives of faith were exemplary, got their hands on what was promised. God had a better plan for us: that their faith and our faith would come together to make one completed whole, their lives of faith not complete apart from ours." Hebrews 11:39-40 (The Message)
Their stride was not made up of choosing a consistent routine, successful accomplishments, finished projects or the ability to follow through . . . it was about faith.
Faith is internal, invisible, hidden, quiet, steady, full of struggle and endurance.
I wish it was different . . . for me and for you.
On the other hand, there is something deeper in me that longs to find a new stride, even if it looks different from what I've known. But, like running, I must endure the first part in order to reach it.
For me, that means waking up, putting on my shoes (so to speak) and enduring the morning pain, the fatigue, the slow moving of body functioning and abilities. It means greeting my family with gratefulness and love, making my coffee, and settling into my time of reading and journaling in the morning. (I don't do this because it is the 'right thing' to do, I do this because I desperately need to. If I don't ground myself in Jesus' Presence first thing in the morning, paying attention to my own body's needs and my ever changing to-do list and focusing on the grace of God, then I become easily distracted or discouraged with the pain.)
The stride, then, becomes in my heart and mind. It becomes about loving God and loving people in a consistent, honest and grateful way. It's about respecting the needs of my body and responding with care and wisdom and surrender. It's about staying focused on what God is asking me to do for that day or moment and not much more. It is being present and attentive to what God is up to in my life. Then, after a little while, my heart settles into a steady rhythm . . . my spirit begins to feel joy and peace and I know I've hit my stride. But this stride, is a God-given one, a gift to my soul. It's a sense that everything is going to be okay, even if pain or circumstances do not go away.
I think I could get used to that.
"But what happens when we live God’s way? He brings gifts into our lives, much the same way that fruit appears in an orchard—things like affection for others, exuberance about life, serenity. We develop a willingness to stick with things, a sense of compassion in the heart, and a conviction that a basic holiness permeates things and people. We find ourselves involved in loyal commitments, not needing to force our way in life, able to marshal and direct our energies wisely." Galatians 5:22-23 (The Message)