My daughter and I are now in the teeth of our marathon training—the point in time where we start talking about blister mitigation, tote our CamelBaks around and wonder whether we should bring snacks. (I'd like to take nachos, but they'd be a bit messy.)
It's also when I figured we'd be faced with a decision: Would we be able to continue?
Emily's always liked running—more than me, truth be told—and she's already run a couple of 13-plus-mile half marathons. But lately, she’s been struggling with one of her knees.
Note the girl only has two of them, and both are fairly critical to running 26 miles. And while we weren't worried about her doing any real structural damage to the joint—her doctor said the area around it was just sorta "irritated" and "inflamed" (like me during rush hour)—I didn't want her suffering during our runs. Or, at least, not yet. Let’s face it: Most marathoners deal with some aches and pains when they run, but I didn't want my daughter to be miserable before her time. And on some of our longer runs, Emily’s been running a little like a well-conditioned Quasimodo.
But now, it seems as though her knee’s getting better—thanks in part to Em stretching the thing out whenever possible. She takes ibuprofen the second we head out to cut down on swelling. When I take one of my (frequent) bathroom breaks, she keeps the knee moving so it won’t stiffen up.
And, as I said, it seems to be paying off. We cruised through a 12-mile run without Quasimodo showing up for more than a half a mile of it. It’s feeling better, she says—and her left leg (the one without the injured knee) didn’t get nearly as tired as it sometimes gets, which means her right leg must be working a little bit harder.
Part of long-distance running, I think, is figuring out how to handle a bit of pain. We deal with the aches that come with running 26 miles—from stinging feet and aching backs to blisters and chafing. You learn to listen to your body: Is it screaming or just merely whining? Sometimes, your body absolutely tells you you should stop—before you do some serious long-term damage. But sometimes, like Emily’s knee, it’s just grouchy. It’s tired of putting up with all those miles, and understandably so. But if you can persevere and push through, your body sometimes decides to stop grousing and chip in a little more.
In our lives and our journeys of faith, we experience pain, too. Sometimes, the pain can be the product of really serious stuff: Loss. Heartbreak. Sickness. A crisis in the family or at work. When we suffer pain like this, we can’t go on as if nothing had happened. We’ve got to stop. We’ve got to heal.
But sometimes, the pain can be just part of life—irritants from a broken world that get into our joints and make it hard to push on.
I think that pain manifests itself a little differently for each of us, and it can come from loads of different places. We grow frustrated, disenfranchised. When it comes to spirituality, we lose sight of Christ and focus instead on all the fallible Christians and the imperfect trappings of Christianity. We get mad at our pastor or struggle with hypocrisy (be it ours or someone else’s). We grow intolerant at our own apparent inadequacies or bridle under its restrictions. Somewhere along the line, many of us Christians find that being Christian just hurts sometimes. And it’s tempting to just stop … because we hate the pain and we understand that that hurt won’t just go away. It’ll be with us, at some level, with every step.
But if we persevere, we find we can manage it. Just understanding the pain is bound to be there, actually, goes a long way toward accepting it. We stretch—not our knees, but our brains and our souls. The more limber they are, the more effectively we can sort through our issues intellectually—and more generous our souls can be with the shortfalls we see.
This is the unsexy part of faith—the work of the thing. We can talk all we want about our relationship with God, but we sometimes conveniently forget that successful relationships take work. And that sometimes, through no fault of God’s, they can be painful.
And yet, we know it’s worth it. It’s worth the work, worth pushing through pain. It’s better to go forward than move back. Because in the end, we’ll see the object of all of our hard work … and it’ll all be worth it.