Freedom in discipline

In the 30 years I’ve been a runner I’ve run more than 150,000 miles. Still, some of the hardest steps I take are those first few getting out the door for daily runs. –Bill Rodgers, Lifetime Running Plan

Are you drinking enough water? —my Dad, upon your acknowledgement of any feeling of ill health

Are you exercising? —my Dad, upon your acknowledgement of any feeling of ill health (if the above is answered in the affirmative).

A little sleep, a little slumber, a little folding of the hands to rest—and poverty will come on you like a bandit and scarcity liked an armed man. —Proverbs 6:10-11

It’s been a bit of a broken week for me.  On the heels of being out of the office Tuesday to Friday last week, I was in briefly Monday, only to head to the airport in the afternoon—work stacking up  but trumped by more travel.  On top of that, my Chicago Marathon training was scheduled to start this week. Having taken time off after Boston, with the plan to let my body heal and adjust my running form, I’ve lost almost all of my hard earned fitness, am using very different muscles to run and have what amounts to a relatively short period left to prepare.

The net result is that I have learned to dread running again.  I have slowed my pace at times to nearly 2 minutes slower than my goal pace, labored over short runs, walked, blistered and bled.  My legs have hurt in muscles I didn’t know I had, and I am often back to limping down stairs again.  I just saw this morning that I have toe nails that are dying.

It’s so easy to forget how hard it is to get started.  Running 70 miles a week is easier than the first few runs after a break.

About a month ago, I also started a Bible in a Year reading program, which requires that I read 4 chapters per day on average.  I’m behind on this as well, watching my estimated day of completion slip over time and struggling to get caught up.

I realize these don’t seem like major events, and in the grand scheme of things, they are not…not in and of themselves anyway.  But, when my personal disciplines fade, I become grumpy, stressed and disquieted.  And it’s usually a viscous cycle for me. I start to dread runs more and attach too much significance to each run. I procrastinate on my Quiet Time (my Bible reflection and prayer). I sleep later than I should, my diet deteriorates and my alcohol consumption climbs. Then I start rescheduling my week (problem solving at its best), trying to figure out where I’ll make it all up.  Problem is, Wednesday’s run become 8 miles instead of 6, Thursday’s rest day goes away—and the next thing I know I’m in bed sick from late night cookies, dehydrated from one too many beers, trying to figure out if I can even run 8 miles any more!

Then I start beating myself up and/or making excuses.  In this case, I have been almost to the point of quitting on Chicago this year.

After missing literally the first run of my training campaign last night, I was determined to get up early, have my quiet time and hit Lakeshore Drive with a vengeance (8 miles instead of 6!)—poetically starting my Chicago Marathon training on Lake Michigan.

Instead, I overslept.

Then, an amazing thing happened.  I got up.  I did my reading. I laced up and hit the pavement.  It was a gorgeous Chicago day, and I ran hard.  8 strong, tough miles. I earned each one and I felt like I had won today.

I learn so much about life from running.

Discipline is a virtuous cycle in the same way that sloth is a vicious one; each starts with just one step.  Sloth breeds more sloth—and lack of physical discipline typically spreads like a virus to other aspects of our lives.  But discipline is the great elixir.  It is like the lines in a coloring book; constraint that offers freedom.

In a somewhat broader sense, the constraint of discipline makes me reflect on what some refer to as spiritual laws.  I call it God’s Law and believe it is right for us, both because it is Right and because it is helpful.  That is to say, I believe in the idea that it is True Truth; an expression of the very character of God, that pre-existed and will exist for eternity (see also are all truth’s equal?).  But I also believe that understanding spiritual law has an importance akin to knowing about gravity when you’re standing on the ledge of a 20-story building.  Our ignorance of gravity will do nothing to prevent the natural consequences of hitting the ground at your accumulated speed.  In the same way, there are consequences in the spiritual realm; God doesn’t cause those consequences, but He has explained them for our benefit.  Living within the lines of Spiritual Law offers the most freedom for our lives.

Assuming the Author of Life knows something about how best to live that life, it follows that disciplined discipleship should yield the best lived lives.  It is only in that discipline where I find rest and peace in my soul.

To be sure, God’s gift of grace in Christ has nothing to do with our discipline, but everything to do with the discipline of Christ and the free gift He offers us.  We’ll never live perfectly disciplined lives—whether in running or diet or relationships or whatever else—which is why God did more than explain His boundaries.  He came Himself in the person of Jesus Christ and dwelled within those boundaries—then conquered the eternal consequences of failing to abide by them.  When we see how beautiful this gift is, our discipline increases, not for the sake of results but for the sake of gratitude.

For those who know Christ, I hope this serves as a reminder of the importance of every single step toward Truth and Goodness—and yet the Grace afforded to those who ask when they fall.  For those who do not, how about a step of faith? I promise you, the first one is the hardest.

  1. …I sure can relate to your struggle. There are things that I want to do that I don’t do. And some of the things I don’t want to do I do. I appreciate the difference you hinted at between training and trying. It’s not about trying harder. We don’t run a marathon by just trying harder. We don’t follow God by just trying harder not to mess up. We train. One step at a time. Thanks for your honesty.
    One of my professors said that we should act as if everything is in God’s hands because they are in His hands whether we act that way or not. God’s truth is true no matter what I think about it. It’s the reality we live in. Thanks for your insight.

  2. “Discipline is a virtuous cycle in the same way that sloth is a vicious one; each starts with just one step. … But discipline is the great elixir. It is like the lines in a coloring book; constraint that offers freedom.”
    “Our ignorance of gravity will do nothing to prevent the natural consequences of hitting the ground at your accumulated speed. In the same way, there are consequences in the spiritual realm; God doesn’t cause those consequences, but He has explained them for our benefit.”

    So true, so insightful and beautifully said. I have struggled to explain the idea behind spiritual “Laws” and you have stated it so well, as always. Thanks for keeping these deep “chats” going here.

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