The good news is that, seven months after surgery on my left knee, I have returned to my three-times-a-week morning ritual of running around the chip trail at the Cedar Hill Golf Course.
I am so grateful for the intricate art of modern surgical technique and the incredible wisdom and encouragement I have received along the way that have made it possible for me to resume this exercise regime that has been part of my life for many years.
The bad news is that it is hard.
I suppose there are people who wake up brimming with bright enthusiastic energy every morning, leap out of bed, and rush gleefully out of the house to engage in vigorous exercise. I am not one of those privileged people.
For me, dressing in my running gear and getting myself out the back door at 6:30 three mornings a week, demands a herculean effort of self-discipline. My body hurts. Everything in me longs to remain in my comfy chair in my study, reading or typing on my computer. There seems to be no incentive to run. There is tremendous motivation to stay stationary. Getting out of the house requires shear determination.
I tell you this, not to solicit pity. But, because it raises a troubling question about the human condition.
As much as it may at times feel like punishment to my body, running is good for me. There is no form of exercise I have found that works as well. It is simple. It does not require great skill or the expenditure of huge amounts of money or time. I do not know any physical activity that can as quickly and effectively give me a good cardiovascular workout.
My work is fairly sedentary. It is essential for my physical well-being that I regularly get my body moving. But, everything in me rebels against this taxing practice of running.
So, the question I ponder as I plod painfully around the trail in the early morning is – why is it so hard to be good? Why is it so challenging and painful to choose good healthy practices and so easy to live in ways that are detrimental to my well-being? Why is it so much more tempting to be sedentary and so hard to get my body moving in strenuous exercise? Why would I rather eat potato chips than wheat berries?
Would it not have been better to design human beings so that the healthy life-giving practices were easier to choose than those things which tend towards death?
It seems there is something in the human condition that can only be achieved by hard work and self-discipline. We need something to push against in order to grow strong and deep. Physical exercise is only of benefit when it encounters resistance. The benefit of running comes from the need to push my body to cross the space between the beginning and the end of my run. The same is true in the spiritual realm.
The beauty of life is nurtured by engaging friction.
Paul may sound a little severe in I Corinthians 9, and he certainly expresses an unpopular view, when he writes,
24 Do you not know that in a race the runners all compete, but only one receives the prize? Run in such a way that you may win it. 25Athletes exercise self-control in all things; they do it to receive a perishable garland, but we an imperishable one. 26So I do not run aimlessly, nor do I box as though beating the air; 27but I punish my body and enslave it, so that after proclaiming to others I myself should not be disqualified. (I Corinthians 9:24-27)
But, as harsh as the words sound, there is something here I know to be true. The “imperishable” “garland” for which I long, may ultimately be a free gift of grace, but it is lived out in this physical realm by the exercise of will and self-discipline. I grow by encountering resistance and pushing through the resistance to a place of greater freedom.
Running will become easier. My cardiovascular system will improve. My muscles will again become tuned to the rigours of running. It will never be easy; but, if I persevere, the time will come when the benefits again clearly outweigh the torment. I will be enriched by the practice of this taxing discipline.