I ran a marathon about 8 years ago. It had always been on my bucket list, and at the time, I didn’t have a spouse or kids and thought, “I’m not getting any younger, so why not?” My relationship with running hasn’t been an easy one. My mom reminded me that when I was in high school I was told by a doctor that due to some gross motor issues it was “physiologically impossible” for me to run. I’ve had other setbacks too. A fractured leg that didn’t heal, other medical issues. But for anyone who knows me — I’m pretty stubborn, it’s hard for me to take no for an answer.
That marathon was when I was waiting to meet my future spouse. Now my husband and I are in the adoption process, which could take a few weeks, to a few years. He actually didn’t flinch when I told him, “I think I should run another marathon.” My mom and a couple other people think I’m borderline insane to train for another 26-mile race. I told them that doing this was going to help keep me from going insane in this next process of waiting, this time to hopefully add another member to our family.
I certainly didn’t train for that first marathon to “win.” I was going to be happy to finish. At that time, I thought I’d probably never run another marathon. Taking multiple hours out of a day to run, being tired all the time (I did meet my future husband during this time and he hoped that my weariness had to do with all my training and not my personality). I thought that doing the marathon was selfish and somewhat self-centered. I see it slightly differently now and I can see definite parallels between running a marathon, parenting, and the spiritual life.
With all the running I did and am about to do now, it definitely allowed me time to say some extra rosaries, to meditate and just be present in the beauty of God’s creation. It also puts you in touch with your physicality — your limits and the wonders of how far you can push this body that the Lord gave you.
Sometimes when I’m in the midst of parenting difficulties, I remind myself, “This is not a sprint; this is the long haul. This is just a little hill I have to get up; if I have to slow down, focus my breath and get back on track, that’s ok. This is not a sprint.” Definitely the sleepless nights when our son was little reminded me how amazing God has made our bodies; they really are resilient, and one day, we would recover our sleep. Training for the marathon and life with my sleepless baby are probably the closest I’ve gotten to trying to join in the Passion of Jesus. I know it is nowhere close to the suffering our Lord suffered, but they did allow me to feel a little closer to carrying the Cross.
I think what I’ve really realized more lately is how maybe training for this marathon is not as selfish and self-centered as I originally thought. Whether it be spiritually or as a parent, we all need to lean on each other. One of the papers we had to fill out in our mountains of paperwork was a list of people we could call on if we needed a break. Friends who would bring meals or allow us to get a shower if we were having a difficult run. Whether it’s my 5-year-old helping me run sprints, or my husband dealing with me leaving early in the morning, or working out late at night and making schedule adjustments for training, we really are called to allow others to help us. In a society that values self-sufficiency, especially in motherhood at a premium, often we should actually experience being on our knees. Some look at marathons as the ultimate in individuality and self sufficiency. Parenthood, my faith, and perhaps a little wisdom are allowing me to see the opposite is true.
One example of this was over the weekend when we took a short family vacation. I needed to do a long run. So I briefly split from my family to run around the area we were staying. My son was actually totally excited to have me leave and have Daddy to himself. We value together time as a family and if my son could have the three of us together all the time, that would be his ideal world, but it’s also really healthy for him to have father/son time.
Sometimes a step back from things allows us to get a fuller perspective. Retreats are wonderful. It’s a little harder for me to have a full weekend to go on retreat. But running, especially long distances helps me to remember that I have to rely on God and His community, the church. We all have difficulties, even as a greater community. Sometimes there are frustrations. Sometimes we trip. Sometimes we fall, get blisters, experience setbacks. Sometimes we even hit the wall (this is actually a real phenomenon — it happened at mile 18 for me). Sometimes it’s so tough that you can’t even think of how far you have ahead. You just got to break it up — first, let me get to the next tree, then the next tree. Let me remember all the people who sacrificed for me to help make this happen. Lord, just be with me.
Whether you run a marathon with your feet, your heart, or your faith, may you know that you are never alone. May you know that you can “do all things in Christ who strengthens me” (Phillipians 4).
Copyright 2019 Meg Herriot