Saturday, March 12, 2011

Outrunning the lions

I had a great return to running last night. I'd just finished an unsettling phone conversation, laid my cell phone down on the bed and stood in the middle of the room, afraid of being still for very long. I didn't want to cry or think too much or sit and stew in my anxiety. I could feel old fears knocking at my door. I needed to get outside and move around, breathe, pray.

I said I was going for a walk and stepped outside into the blustery night air. Walking only lasted fifty feet before I decided it wasn't going to cut it. My legs needed to run. I'd tried this before this past year and hadn't gotten very far before my knees demanded I stop. It's been over a year since I was really a runner. Still, I felt my face set in determination and I set off at a quick pace, full of adrenaline. Lord, I need this. Please let me run tonight, I prayed. I've prayed this prayer before and had to accept that, for some reason beyond me, my request wasn't granted. Tonight, however, I felt a surge of freedom, as if I'd been given a free pass, and a confidence that I could finish the run.

I used to run this same route often. It was one of my favorites, a big loop around Ballard and Phinney Ridge, somewhere between six and seven miles, and a long hill sitting at about a seventy degree angle several miles into the run. Since being unable to run, I've walked that hill many times, but each time felt a twinge of sadness, remembering how much I used to love bounding up that hill until I reached the top, lungs and legs burning.

When I started off, I heard the faintest whisper of a question: "Are you running from your fears?" I kept running, as if to answer the voice, "Perhaps, but my fears can come along. I simply will outrun them." To be still in the midst of my fears and anxieties feels akin to walking into a den of hungry lions and trying to take a nap as they circle around me, licking their lips. I won't do it tonight, I said to God. I may be running, but I refuse to be eaten by those lions.

It was as if I heard the voice reply, "Alright then, keep running. I'm with you," and God's presence beside me, quietly, giving me strength. I wasn't running away; I was fighting.

As I ran, these words from Psalm 18 also ran through my mind, fueling my energy:

"I will love You, O Lord, my strength.
The Lord is my rock and my fortress and my deliverer;
My God, my strength, in whom I will trust;
My shield and the horn of my salvation, my stronghold.
I will call upon the Lord, who is worthy to be praised;
So shall I be saved from my enemies...

For by You I can run against a troop,
By my God I can leap over a wall.
As for God, His way is perfect;
The word of the Lord is proven;
He is a shield to all who trust in Him...

It is God who arms me with strength,
And makes my way perfect.
He makes my feet like the feet of a deer,
And sets me in high places."

(verses 1-3, 29-30, 32-33)

I ran as if no time had passed between my running days and now. I didn't slow down. As I clipped along, my legs shed the anxiety I needed to release and pounded it into the pavement, feeling strong and profoundly grateful for the gift. I ran until the fear had been left behind and it was just me and God in the cool night. And then I could be still.

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