The typical response I get after telling someone that I run long distance is something like, “I only run when someone is chasing me” or “Oh…you mean like Forest Gump?” While I used to not know how to respond I now have grown accustomed to these remarks; of course there is nothing really rude meant by them. At the most they’re meant as playful joking. Still, I think it underscores the fact that most people don’t understand why anyone would willingly place themselves amidst such discomfort. The simple fact is running is indeed painful; sometimes I wonder myself why I do it. I know most runners, if asked why they run, would reply, “Because it makes me feel good.” To quote a Canadian favorite, “Isn’t it ironic, don’t you think?” that something painful would produce the answer “it’s feels good.” Yet, I believe that tucked in this irony is a brilliant truth.
The early Christians understood this brilliant truth. For instance the earliest church history book—the biblical book Acts—tells us, “[all the believers] had everything in common […] Selling their possessions and goods, they gave to anyone as he had need.” They’d do things like fast regularly so that they could give the money they didn’t spend to the needy. They did this to help those in need, and to grow in their relationship with God, as with distance running their discomfort produced joy.
Perhaps the reason why this sounds odd, discomfort producing joy, is because it’s a truth that has been more or less forgotten. Just as the sacrificial way of the early Christians ran counter to the prevailing norms of the Roman Empire we too in live in culture which tells us “do whatever you want” or “you deserve indulgence” and “you’re entitled to happiness, and this will give it to you.” If you don’t believe me start paying attention to the billboards, the ads on busses, and the commercials on your television. Now far be it from me to say something silly like “happiness is bad.” That’s crazy talk. However, I think our culture’s love affair with pleasure has stifled its joy.
The biblical author Peter calls Christians “sojourners” and “nomads.” What he meant was that the world has a way of doing life that runs counter to the higher way, the way of Christ—because of that the Christian lives a life on pilgrimage, never fully comfortable in a world that seeks first itself. This non-conformity to the world’s paradigm became for them a spiritual act of worship; it became joy.
Running—at least for me—helps to foster this deep way of life. When I am running up Spanish Banks hill after a hard 15k I can remember that deep truth: “discomfort often produce joy.” This of course isn’t just a big plug for running—though I highly recommend it—however, it is a big plug for recapturing this way of life; a way of life not curved inward towards indulgence but oriented upward in worship and outward in service.