Thursday, July 30, 2009
The Shepherd Breaks the Wayward Sheep
I took a stroll tonight on a beautiful trail behind Asbury College. I thought that I was incredibly familiar with this course until tonight when it hit me that I had missed its glory. It was the course behind the college where I ran cross country. I always like to say that I “ran cross country in college.” The fact is that I tried to run in college. I ran too hard and too long, injured myself, got sick, and sat out during meets. Secretly, I was relieved to sit out during meets. I hated racing. I claimed to love running, but the stress of competition only paralyzed me. I found myself sick before meets, dehydrated during them, and devastated after them. I typically ran five to ten minutes slower during meets than I ran during actual practice.
I was never athletic as a child. I cried over the presidential fitness test, got sick on the one-mile run during middle school, and never made a single team that I tried out for. In fact, in eighth grade, I was the only student who tried out for the volleyball team who got cut. How terrible is that? I gave up in athletics. I wallowed in my awkward physical incompetency. Somehow, it was terrible to be inadequate in sports. My other talents took back seat. They disappeared in the wake of the devastation of knowing that I was athletically challenged. I was ashamed and appalled at my pathetic physical makeup. Until I made the “cut,” I would only be a partial person.
The anorexia and the athletic training went hand-in-hand. They started together, and they ended together. I set out to prove the world of PE teachers and big taunting boys wrong. I was not a pathetic klutz. I was fast, enduring, and strong. They would eat their words and their taunting.
I got sicker, faster, and more “committed” to my training. I started cross country in high school and continued in college. It became my identity in partnership with the eating disorder. In my mind, I proved everybody wrong. I overcame my limitations and created a “new self.”
What I did not realize, however, was that my new self sought to replace my true self. The true Megan is thoughtful, artsy, literary, and passionate. These characteristics are not in conflict with physical health and self-care, but I was never meant to be a long-distance runner or star athlete. And that is ok. As I walked tonight, rather than running, I experienced the beauty of nature. I observed the white and purple flowers, vast fields, the occasional daylily, the bunny hopping across the path, the trickling creek, a pond hidden behind the trees, puffy clouds, the occasional rain drop, and the deer darting through the foliage. I missed those elements of the trails for four years! I never saw the cool rocks, the little trails woven throughout the brush, the beautiful white butterflies, and the rest of the glorious creation.
Some people feel God’s pleasure when they run. I feel God’s pleasure when I participate in His creation. I feel His pleasure when I sit down for tea with a friend, when I sit and enjoy the beauty of His natural world, when I enjoy skillful literature, or when I sit and meditate on His word. I successfully numbed out through exercise for 14 years. Now I am participating in life, learning the beauty of a leisurely nature walk, feeling and listening to my body’s signals of pain, and responding appropriately.
Running is not intrinsically a bad thing. For me, it was a trap. It broke my bones, ate up hours of each day, and consumed my thought life. It robbed my energy, and stole my passions. I built it as an idol, and God had to bulldoze it. When He allowed me to break my ankle, I saw Him as the shepherd who breaks the legs of a sheep that has gone astray. Some shepherds break their sheep’s legs and carry it on their shoulders, because they know that if the sheep continues to stray, it will die. This is what the Lord did for me. As He carried me, broken, on His shoulders, I experienced the gentleness and greatness of my Shepherd. I will never go back. Running was an idol that almost killed me. It robbed me of precious college pleasure and passion, it destroyed my bones, and it starved my spirit. It has no more power.
I run in the ways of the Lord. Paul says to Timothy that physical training is of a little value, but training in godliness produces beautiful fruit not only for this life but for the life to come. I am seeing the fruit here in this temporal existence, and it reminds me of the infinitely greater fruit of the life that waits on the gleaming horizon. To have remained consumed in running would have provided no benefits for this (shortened) life nor any treasures laid up in heaven. How devastating it would have been to see Jesus face-to-face, only to realize that I had run in vain my whole life!
Yes Lord, running in the way of your word, I wait for you. Your name and Your renown are the desire of my heart.