-as I prepare a few more blog posts for publication, I hope you’ll enjoy some posts I wrote a while ago for a young adult website-
In February of 2013, I signed up for a Tough Mudder—a challenging 10- to 12-mile race, which includes a range of obstacles. Though I’d never done anything like this before—I’d never even run more than nine miles—I resonated with the idea of the Tough Mudder. The race organizers make a big deal out of the event not being a race, but rather a challenge against yourself. I saw this as an opportunity to break down limitations, and so, with the support of my wife, I signed up for an event three months away.
I knew it was important to prepare. I found an exercise schedule put together by the Tough Mudder organizers and decided to give it a try. At the same time, I wanted to get ready for the race in prayer. Now, I’m very used to praying as I prepare for things, but I wasn’t sure how prayer could dovetail with the very physical nature of the exercise regimen. A passage from a book I love to read for spiritual insights into the immediate practicality of the Bible, Miscellaneous Writings by Mary Baker Eddy, gave me some guidance. She wrote, “The mounting sense gathers fresh forms and strange fire from the ashes of dissolving self, and drops the world.” I was struck by the power inherent in the act of dropping self and any sense of burden that the world—with its assumptions about age, fitness, and health—tries to attach to us. “Dissolving self, and drop[ping] the world” became my anthem as I prepared—not just in prayer, but also in my exercise.
That didn’t come easily at first, though. The first week that I upped the difficulty of my regimen, I found myself second-guessing my decision to participate in the race. Was I trying to prove something? But the following Monday, as I started my warm-up run, I realized that I wasn’t trying to prove anything. I wasn’t future-focused; I was simply expressing strength and endurance now. I was glorifying God now. In that sense, the event didn’t really even matter.
I saw, too, that that I’d been treating prayer and gratitude as my “cool down.” In other words, after a “successful” workout, I’d give gratitude to God, and I’d pray to be able to continue on with the rest of my day. But now I saw that prayer and gratitude could be my warm-up, as well. That I didn’t have to wait to know if I’d successfully “dropped the world” by overcoming limitations in my exercise. I could drop the world, and let go of any sense of mortality or separation from God, whether I was doing push-ups, or making pancakes for my wife. That week went a lot more smoothly, and I even noticed gains in the number of exercises I could successfully do. Funny, though: I no longer cared about how many pull-ups I did; I was just focused on loving every God-given moment.
The biggest spiritual—and performance—gains of all, though, came as I delved more deeply into this idea of dissolving self. Throughout my life, I’ve had times when I haven’t tried my hardest or fully committed because I’ve been afraid of what that will mean if I don’t succeed. I want to have a bit left in reserve so I know I might have been able to do it. Essentially, I have been afraid of what it says about me if I do my best, and my best isn’t good enough. This fear has impacted relationships throughout my life, and has popped up in athletic and other endeavors as well.
As I was engaging in this prep, however, I saw that holding on to the belief that success comes through my own efforts was in complete opposition to the command to dissolve self. Jesus said, “I can of mine own self do nothing”—knowing that all power was of God, and not within a personal human self. And as I dissolved a limited sense of my self and saw that I could never be less than the perfect, limitless emanation of God, everything changed. I began throwing myself into all my activities—not just exercising, but quality time with my wife and friends, praying for others. Anything, really. I discovered more of those “fresh forms” of expression and “strange fire” of ability and power to do all that was set before me.
In my three months of prep, I was able to exercise a lot, and I vastly improved on my execution of all the exercises. But more importantly, I became more open every day to seeing those fresh forms of God, expressed in me and all those around me. And my prayers for others and the world gained a deeper sense of joy, because I was discovering that I could deeply expand my trust in God and His care for all His ideas. If He didn’t leave me on my own when I was warming up, or when I experienced extreme pain during an exercise, or even when I was all done and showered, then I knew He wouldn’t leave anyone else either.
As the day of the race approached, I felt nothing but excitement and expectation—and a readiness to put everything I’d learned into practice.