For the four years I was in high school, I was a part of the cross-country team. Junior year we had a change in coaches, the new one a bit more odd than the first, yet nice enough all the same. Thinking back on it, almost twenty-five years later now, I realize his methods were a bit unorthodox, even downright strange, but also rather ingenious.
In today’s hyper-sensitive, waiver-loving world, he most likely wouldn’t have been allowed to do it, but coach brought out a video camera one afternoon at practice and recorded each one of us running down the sidewalk. He then had us watch ourselves and critiqued each of us on our posture and form. While most of us hadn’t given it much thought before, it was eye-opening to learn that the way a runner postures her upper body can make a significant difference in the amount of energy she is expending. For example, if you run hunched over with arms bent at a full ninety degrees and pump your arms across your chest with each stride, you end up tense and expending much more energy than a runner postured with a straight back, arms bent slightly, perhaps around twenty or thirty degrees, swinging calmly to the sides, with hands relaxed.
To drive his point home and keep us focused on running with a relaxed upper body, Coach had us practice running while holding a single potato chip in each hand. Although most might see this as nutty, this was a brilliant lesson in keeping our hands relaxed and focusing on our posture and form. I can’t claim to run much anymore these days, but the lesson is one that has always stuck with me. Those potato chips changed who I was as a runner and, on the rare occasion that I do don my running shoes, I am always reminded of the importance of staying relaxed.
Fast-forward twenty-five years, nineteen years of marriage and sixteen years of motherhood, and the lesson of that fragile potato chip in my hands has, strangely enough, taken on entirely new meaning, yet brilliant all the same. Never before have I felt such an intense struggle of keeping the chip intact as I do now the mother of two teenage sons. The balance of letting go just enough to support them in their need and desire for independence, yet holding on just enough so as not to pass by any critical parenting lessons is an expenditure of will unlike anything I’ve been challenged with before.
As every step turns into miles, I am left anxious about the terrain that lies ahead and questioning if the miles I’ve already covered were run well. Have I done enough, given enough, taught enough, loved enough? Have I asked too much, doubted too often, let fear rob me of God’s assurance and promise?
One moment you’ll find me taking it all in stride, calm and relaxed, and the next I’ll hear the crunch of the pieces of chips beneath my feet, feel the weight of my legs as I struggle to move forward and notice the shortness of breath in my desperate attempt to hold on too tightly. As I fluctuate back and forth on this pendulum of parenting angst, God is continually calling me back to my knees and asking me to assume an entirely different posture-the posture of prayer.
I wonder what it would look like if I videotaped my mothering for an entire day. What would my posture be and how would God critique my form? Much like a runner needs to prepare her body for optimal performance by taking the time to stretch and hydrate, I need to remember the best success in my role as mother will only be realized if I first assume the posture of prayer, ask God to assume His role as coach, and hand over control as He places the chips in my hand. Of course, while God’s presence is free for the asking, it won’t necessarily mean I’ll make it up every hill without feeling the difficulty of the change in terrain. It will mean, however, that I’ll reach the finish line without expending energy that I don’t have in the form of worry and anxiety about things I was never meant to control.
Funny enough, it’s nearly impossible for me to see a runner without immediately critiquing her form. There’s a woman who runs along the road I travel each morning with some of the worst posture I’ve seen. She is always hunched over, with her arms bent and flailing across her chest with each step. She’s out there, however, rain or shine, in extreme cold or oppressive heat. While she may not be the best example of relaxed form, she is an incredible example of commitment and perseverance — and that really speaks to me, as it is exactly that kind of commitment to prayer that life demands.
I need to match my stride with that of the One who knows the path ahead, can manage all the twists and turns, breathe life into me when exhaustion threatens to take over, pick up the pieces when I meet with failure, and cheer me on with each step forward. The chips in my hand need and deserve the most delicate, confident hold and a runner that trusts in the gentle leadership of her Coach.
Copyright 2018 Nicole Johnson