Running the race, watching for God

February 17, 2022

I am standing in the crisp, cold air. It is almost 7:00 a.m. this Sunday morning, and I have been awake longer than I want to be, away from a bed much warmer than the place I am standing now. It is the start of the Houston Marathon, and I am signed up to run the 13.1 miles of the half-marathon. Soon the starting signal will be fired and the mass of people around me will start surging toward the starting line, first at a snail’s pace and then, almost at once, the crowd will thin and my feet will move at a quicker clip, slowly and surely trying to keep up and propel myself toward the finish line.

People sometimes ask me why I like running. Truth be told, I don’t really enjoy it all that much. After even a short run, I’m tired and sore. And yet I can’t seem not to run anymore. Something pushes me to move my feet faster and faster until I’m at a steady jog. My brain clears for a moment in time, as I am totally engrossed with the task of making it back to where I started.

But at the same time, I think that running is the closest I come most days to finding God in the ordinary. I am reminded of Philippians 1:6 and 2 Timothy 4:7. Reminded that God is with me along my run, not only along the actual run but along the run that is my life. I don’t move slowly, and I am prone to miss the smaller signs of God’s presence along the way.

Truth be told, I don’t really enjoy running all that much. But at the same time, I think that running is the closest I come most days to finding God in the ordinary.

The minister of discipleship at my church, Matt Walton, says that theology, in its most basic form, asks, “Who is God?” and “Who are we?” These are heavy and big questions, ones that theologians like me by trade spend the better part of our lives wrestling with and pontificating about at length. I find my answers when I’m running. I may be the runner, forever trying to get to the next place, but God is the trail that I’m on and the music I’m listening to, the light in the darkness of the night keeping me safe, the lyrics resonating with me in new and deeper ways, communicating truth that I so readily miss otherwise.

We are two months into the new year, two years into a global pandemic that still seems to have no end. How would you answer these questions? Who is God? Who are you? Where do you find the answers to these questions? Like most Christians, I find these answers in scripture and tradition, and I firmly believe that each of us has a way of learning about God that is unique to some degree. This may be the language of our souls.

I encourage you to spend some time this year looking for that heart language and carving out time to wrestle with these questions. If God is really to work in us to complete a good task, is it not worth our time to figure out how we best communicate with God? For me, it’s in running outdoors at night. Others find it strictly through reading or contemplative prayer. Maybe for you it will be listening to music. Or journaling. God is truly capable of finding us in the strangest of situations. If God is who reaches down to us, perhaps we then are the ones reaching back. Keep running that race, and watch for God to come alongside you, willing you ever on to the finish line.

Dr. Claire Hein Blanton is an ordained Baptist minister in Houston, Texas. She received her PhD in systematic theology and ethics from the University of Aberdeen.

The views expressed are those of the author and not necessarily those of American Baptist Home Mission Societies.

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