by Michael J. Klassen
Over the last two years I’ve run in two marathons. The first marathon, I fractured a bone in my foot midway through the race and hobbled the last 13 miles to the finish line. I wrote about it in this post. The second marathon I nearly collapsed on mile 17—the result of fighting a flu bug the previous 10 days. Marathons accentuate every weakness in our body.
After my near-collapse last June, I felt entirely burnt out on exercise. Seven years of consistent running and weightlifting left me with zero desire to work out. As a result, I did very little to stay in shape over the last four months. Finally, two weeks ago, I re-launched my training regimen.
But about that same time, I discovered a side-effect from my work stoppage: my heart felt a bit harder. I’m not referring to my physical heart, although I’m sure my cardiovascular system needed a tune up. My heart—the center of my emotions, self-awareness, and hidden place with God—seemed a little stiff.
What difference does running make on our heart?
Running and Spirituality In the Bible
Running and spirituality have a great deal in common. First of all, it’s the most prominent sport in the Bible. Paul must have been enamored with running because he referred to it throughout his writings (1 Corinthians 9:24-27, Galatians 5:7, 2 Timothy 4:7).
But think about it: training for a long run requires repeated long runs. Leading up to my marathons, I ran for three to four hours at a time. No computer. No cell phone. No television or work to keep me busy. No conversations. No mental stimulation. Just me and my thoughts. While I listened to music during my training, I found myself absorbed in reflection for hours at a time.
What goes through a person’s mind when they don’t have anything to keep it busy? Initially, I spent a great deal of time thinking through the various tasks that I needed to accomplish. Then I processed recent conversations and important relationships. Eventually, I found my mind wandering for hours. Random thoughts. Random memories.
One Saturday morning, my wife and I were lacing up our sneakers when I commented to her that I really didn’t want to run that morning because I was way behind on my sermon preparation for the next day.
“Well then pray about your sermon while you run,” she remarked. Such an idea!
By the time we returned four hours later, my sermon was finished. And the next day, I was quite content with the product.
After that, I committed to being prayerful during my runs. Rather than pray through a mental list of items, I decided to pray about the stray thoughts that wandered into my mind. If I relived a memory from my childhood, I prayed for the people in the story. If I recounted a recent conversation, I prayed for the people involved. And I also began numerous internal conversations with God. My heart felt fully alive.
We know the physical benefits of running. Our cardiovascular system becomes stronger, our brain begins functioning much smoother…we become healthier. But long periods of time without mental stimulation makes room for our hearts to function as they were designed.
Obviously, running isn’t the only option, but engaging in physical activity while connecting with God brings enormous benefits.
Michael co-pastors The Neighborhood Church in Littleton, Colorado. He’s currently enrolled in a calisthenics class that’s working him back into shape.