Running has always been, if not a passion, a deeply felt need of my husband's. Along with keeping in shape, it is his way to unwind, de-stress, and get alone with God. He had explained his joy of running very clearly to me, several times, but all I could hear was some form of gobbledygook. Really. It was beyond my ability to fathom that anyone not being chased by a starving lion would choose to run. For pleasure.
But I loved him, so I was resigned to the fact that he would disappear from our home a few evenings a week, only to return panting, dripping in sweat, and wearing a contented look on his face. I didn't get it. Not only did I fail to enjoy running, I just couldn't run. Sure, I could hold my own in a game of chase with my youngest boys. But they're ages five and two.
So no one was more surprised than I was when, one day during a vacation stay with my parents, my husband jokingly asked if I wanted to go running with him. And I said, "Sure, why not?"
Maybe it was just a brain lapse, or an opportunity for us to sneak off without the kids, who knows? But I couldn't believe I was actually raiding my mom's closet for sneakers and sweats to borrow.
Once my bemused husband saw that I was dressed and honestly intended to at least step out the door with him, he stopped his snickering and became my coach. He assured me that we were going to start out very slowly—good news to my ears.
Our "speed" was so slow, I'm sure it looked like I was running in slow motion while the rest of the world clipped along at a normal pace. But before we had gone even one block, my body objected. Right away my heart and lungs were pounding, screaming, and angrily demanding, Where's the fire?! Where's the starving lion?
But then just when I thought a collapse was coming, my ears were distracted by the voice of my husband. Somehow, miraculously, this guy beside me had enough extra oxygen to actually talk while running. He started sharing everything he knew about running: how to swing your arms, maintain your pace, breathe. The distraction was good for me mentally, and I hoped he'd ramble on the whole time. But soon he wasn't just informing me; he started to encourage me.
With each "You're doing great!" and "Keep going!" my pessimism toward running grew weaker. Of course, my lungs were still screaming ugly things at me, but my mind wasn't listening to them anymore. My husband's sweaty face turned and beamed at me. I didn't have the energy to smile back, but my heart was moved. Just hearing him say, "You're going farther than I thought you would!" and "I'm proud of you, honey!" made me pump my legs another stretch of road.
Although his encouraging words didn't transform my body, they did transform my will. Had I been running by myself, I would have given up after that first block—but his praise pushed me on. Miracle of miracles, I was making myself run. And no one was chasing me!
What happened to me?
The surprise of my first run lingered well after we finished. The praise lavished on me by my stunned husband was worth the sore legs. And you know what? The next day I asked him if he wanted to run with me. (I know, beam me up now, Mothership.) As I stretched aching muscles that second day, I quietly marveled over what I'd accomplished. Yet I wasn't amazed at my own new sportin' bad self so much as I was amazed at the fuel of my husband's words. They'd gotten me to do something I'd previously loathed and thought impossible.
The real test came once we returned home from our vacation. The reality of young children at home meant my husband and I would not have the opportunity to run together. I'd have to leave my own personal coach behind and go by myself. It would have been easy to come up with an excuse to no longer run. Kids, busy schedules, suppertime, global warming—I could have used anything. Further, the magic of our vacation was gone. We were smack back in the middle of life.
But I knew I had to try it again. I had learned that my body could actually participate in (and survive) this mystery known as "jogging." Most of all, experiencing the feeling of accomplishment and praise from my husband washing over me afterwards was something I didn't want to let go. So I ran.
I hadn't gone far by myself when I started to understand why running was a type of "quiet time" for my spouse. At first it was a spiritual experience for me just because of the Help me, Lord! Help me, Lord! mantra I silently repeated with each step. But as I went on, I was able to form other prayers, and more importantly, I began to listen to God. With my body and breathing fully occupied, he had my complete attention—and it had been a long time since that had happened.
Then I realized God and I weren't completely alone. Although I couldn't see my husband's sweaty face, his words were right there with me. I could so clearly hear his praise and admonition racing through my brain. As I ran that first time by myself, I realized again the power of words, of praise, of encouraging another soul to go the distance, whatever the race may be.
"This, Lord," I realized as I prayed, "this must be why in your word I read encourage so often. This is why it is so important to you that we strengthen each other with our words. You've got me now, Lord. Tell me how you want me to encourage my husband, my family, and others." As I made it back home, I realized I had learned something more than just how to run. And I realized that my husband had given me one of my best presents ever. His gift came in the form of words. Encouragement. Life-changing, you-can-do-the-impossible, I'll-be-right-here-with-you encouragement.
Kim Neessen lives in Iowa with her husband and sons. She teaches and directs a preschool, which also keeps her running.
Copyright © 2010 by the author or Christianity Today/Kyria.com.
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