What I learned about church by running a 1/2 marathon…

I wanted to write this post while my legs were still sore and the blisters on my feet make walking uncomfortable. It doesn’t take a genius based on the title to understand I ran in a 1/2 marathon this morning. For those of you that have known me for a while, you probably don’t really believe I went through with this. I have never enjoyed running…despised it honestly. The only time I ran in my life was during basketball & football practices with a coach screaming at me. But over the last three or four years I have come to enjoy running. Not long distances mind you, but the 2-3 mile runs. So 12 weeks ago I committed to run with Abby & Nicole and today was the day.

As I was running today, this thought crossed my mind several times — “this is what church should be like.” Let me draw some parallels.

Shared Mission

As I was standing in this crowd of 600 people at the starting line I felt like I was a part of something much bigger than myself. As I looked over the crowd, I noticed all different types of people. I developed a system to rank the seriousness of a runner based on the length of their shorts. The more upper thigh exposed, the more dedicated and veteran the runner. I, of course, had on a pair of Nike basketball mesh shorts so you know where I ranked in this system. There were men, women, young, old, lifetime runners, and first-timers like me. But there was one thing that we all had in common – our mission. This mission was to finish the race in the best time you (individually) are capable of. That honestly was it. I’m sure there was 5-6 out of the 600 that were in it to win, but most people didn’t even think about snapping the tape. They just wanted to do their personal best.

Vulnerability & Brokenness

There is nothing like being physically broken to make people vulnerable, real, and authentic. I saw a guy dehydrating and his friends helping him to a drink table. My personal favorite — I saw a woman jump into the woods about five feet from the running path and relieve herself while her husband or boyfriend stood their waiting. What if the church was like this? Not in regards to bodily functions, I prefer public restrooms. But what if people truly were able to be real, authentic, and vulnerable with their fellow brothers and sisters? No games. No personas. No fakeness. Just real. At times raw. Then the church can come around the broken, give them a drink. Take them to the healer. Restore their weary bodies.

Encouragement

This mission of doing your best caused us runners to encourage and exhort one another. Miles 4 to 7.5 was a stretch of road to the turn-around, with miles 7.5 to 11 coming back that same road. This was the only part of the course where you could pass each other. As I just crossed mile 5, a man that must have weighed 87 pounds was running the opposite way. This crazy cat was already at mile 10. But as he ran by those in my little pack, everyone began to cheer him on. It was amazing! It was like we were feeding off of this guy’s unbelievable pace. At about mile 5.5, I passed a guy coming back the other way. So he was like 4 miles ahead of me. But as we were running by each other, he looked at me and said, “Keep it up.” For some weird reason, this encouraged me. As I ran, I picked up this sense of responsibility to try my best to encourage those I passed or passed me with a smile, a “keep it up” or something. At the finish line, many of the real-deal runners were standing there, cheering on the novice like me. It was like they wanted us to finish. Maybe run another race. Join their fraternity. We were welcomed into their world.

At about mile 9 I simply hit a wall. This frustrated me because just last week I ran 11 miles and didn’t stop. But I just knew that if I didn’t walk for a minute or two, something bad was going to happen. So I walked for a little bit and then began to run again. For about the last 4 miles I must have walked a good 1/4 to a 1/3 of a mile. At mile 12 I was running behind these two girls and the one girl told her friend, “Go on and finish without me.” Her friend said, “Are you sure?” She replied, “Yes, I’ll see you at the finish.” So right before the friend took off, she turned around and said, “You aren’t going to walk are you?” “No, I won’t.” And then the friend took off running. As I ran by the friend left behind, I jokingly said, “I’ll walk for you.” About two minutes later, I was doing just that…walking. I just needed like a minute to walk so I could finish the last 3/4 of a mile. But as I took about two or three steps into my walk, I felt this hit on my back and the girl who was left behind says to me, “If I don’t walk, you don’t walk. Let’s go.” So I ran the last 3/4-mile with a complete stranger. We talked, laughed, and encouraged each other to the finish (until she decided to take off running at the last second and smoke me!). But I must say, this stranger helped me finish the last leg of the race. I had a goal of running the 1/2 in 2 hours. I finished in 2 hours and 43 seconds. If it weren’t for the push from my new friend, I wouldn’t have made it.

As I was coming up towards the finish line I first spotted Heidi in the crowd, then Dan, then Gretchen & the girls, then Amber, then Abby, and finally Garrett. “Wow”, I thought, “My church is special. They encouraged me. They share their lives with me. They are real with me. We are living missional lives together. Thank you God. Thank you for allowing me to be a part of something special.”