I’m co-teaching a class on spiritual formation, and in there I used an analogy of running being similar to praying. (By the way, by praying, I’m mainly talking about contemplation and silence, not so much the “praying through a prayer list” sort of praying. Not that one is better than the other, just clarifying.) It just so happens that I also began a new running regimen back in late July, and so running and praying have been on my mind. I don’t know if I would call myself a “runner”, though I always run off and on and occasionally get on a kick like I am now.
While I was running this morning, I was mulling over this idea and the more I think about it, the more I see that running and praying are quite similar. So here are some things I’ve thinking, in no particular order:
- Running is like praying in that if you haven’t done either in a while (or ever), they both are a little hard to get started. I keep a spreadsheet logging my runs, and my first run in this particular series was the week of July 24th. Prior to that I had hardly run at all. That week my best run was 3.1 miles at almost a 10 minute pace. It was brutal. I was fat and slow. That week I also had a few run/walks because I couldn’t maintain a jogging pace for 30 minutes. Today I can run that same 3.1 miles in about 26 minutes and even kind of enjoy it. Running takes practice, day after day, week after week.
- Prayer is the same. The first day is hard, my mind is cluttered, I walk away wanting to quit. Months into it, I find I enjoy it, need it, thrive on it. The times of silence come easier and there is less clutter on the brain. Maybe you can train your heart and brain in prayer just like in running.
- Running and prayer take grace. There are some days on my spreadsheet that are empty. I label them as “rest”, but more accurately for some of those days might be “laziness”. So I have a choice; get mad at myself and eat donuts, or forgive myself and get out and run the next day.
- My prayer life is the same. I have a goal of 15 minutes of silence about 5 days a week. There are some (i.e., many) days that go by and I make zero time for that. But, I get up and give it a go the next day. Once I realized that God loves me regardless, prayer becomes more enjoyable and less legalistic.
- Sometimes when running or praying, you do what you can. There are days I want and need to run 4-6 miles, but I just don’t have time or my body can’t handle it. Rather than do nothing, I’ve decided that even the 2-3 mile runs are still good.
- Some days I can only carve out 2-5 minutes of silence. It’s still worth it, and it still shapes me. So, I do what I can.
- Running and praying take practice. As I said, my first run stunk. It was clunky and slow. I didn’t feel good. Now, it’s much better, but that took months.
- It’s interesting that I don’t like to think of prayer that way. Practicing our faith isn’t something we think about, but it’s necessary. Prayer isn’t natural if we are honest. It is the language of a foreign land, the language of another Kingdom, and it takes practice to learn. So don’t give up on running when your first run is more like a walk and you hurt like crazy afterward. And don’t give up on praying when the first few (or 20) times are tough. It takes practice.
- And finally, there are good days and bad days running and praying. I went out two weeks ago to run 6 miles. It was a distance I had already mastered and should have been easy. I cut it off under 5 miles because it was hot, I was tired, and it just wasn’t working that day. But, I got up the next day and ran again.
- Sometimes I spend time in silence and contemplation and walk away feeling incredible. I feel as if the Spirit of God is right there with me as I go about my day. Other days (most days even) don’t go that way. However, I get up and pray nonetheless. As a friend once told me, “I don’t pray when I feel like it, I pray when my calendar tells me to. Otherwise, I would hardly ever pray.”
So try both. Start running. And don’t call me after a day or two and say “This isn’t working!” Do it for 6 months and then report back.
And start incorporating daily times of silence. Start with 5-10 minutes. Read a book or online about how to practice Christian contemplation, learn a breath prayer, etc. Then practice. And don’t call me 7 days in saying, “This isn’t working!” Do it for 6 months and then report back.
Maybe it’s just me, but I like this running and praying analogy…