"Why does it still feel like Lent?"
I was running down Belmont Boulevard in Nashville on Monday afternoon. Rain had been coming down all day and had rendered the sidewalk into a minefield of puddles. By now the precipitation had settled into a lightish but steady rhythm. However the forecast called for thunderstorms to roll into town within the hour. I was running to beat Mother Nature's clock.
As to that question that popped into my mind, it didn't really have to do with the gray dreariness of the afternoon. The day before had been Easter. Christ is risen. Christ is risen indeed. It is a celebration of the best news possible. I went through the motions. When we sang "All Creatures of Our God and King" in church, my heart fluttered but it felt like it was beating beneath a protective shell. Easter was an off day for me; one of those days where the little things build up into something bigger. At some point, I just gave up on the day and giving up just spiraled me further down the miserable rabbit hole.
So the seeming relentlessness of Lent was partly my fault. I invited it in. In fact, going for this run was an attempt on my part to get back to where I needed to be. For some reason, running kickstarts prayer when I don't feel like talking to God. I kept glancing out the window throughout the day hoping for, needing some kind of opening to take off.
Because I was running to beat the storm, I was pressing. When I press, my stride gets messed up. My right leg kicks out to the side just a bit. You probably wouldn't notice it unless you were looking for it, but this barely perceptible stagger adds up over the miles. It ever so slightly cuts back on the ground I cover with each step. It puts unneeded strain on various joints and muscles. I knew that I was doing this, but I didn't want to get caught in the storm. So I just stubbornly pushed forward.
I started to wonder if my stride was the only thing that I was pushing. I have written a good deal about this transitional period that I am experiencing. Out of seminary and out of the ministry where I worked so long, I am somewhat alone in all of this for the first time. As I wrestle with who I am, what I am supposed to do, and what I believe about God, I almost feel like that I have been trying to beat the clock. Like if I don't get this figured out as soon as possible, then I am going to be swallowed up by some storm.
Growing up, I always had a naive vision of making it "there" spiritually when I was an adult. Now that I am here, I find that "there" is a long ways off and probably just a mirage. Yet there is that pressure of youthful idealism, of youth camp epiphanies and Switchfoot songs that make me feel like this middle passage is some sort of great failure. Because of that I feel like I have been forcing my faith, putting undue pressure on my walk with God. I haven't let it move forward naturally for fear. This isn't always the case mind you. There are days when following Jesus feels as normal as breathing. Other days it is a laborious process.
This is why it still felt like Lent. I was forcing myself to feel like it was Easter. I wanted with all of my heart to bask in the power of the resurrection, but felt like I was stuck. And I felt like if I didn't get to the empty tomb soon then perhaps I would miss out. Perhaps something horrible would overtake me like those horror stories of lost faith that are told to scare us straight.
Around the time that I got to Vanderbilt's campus, my right ankle began to hurt. I had been pressing for three miles and, though I knew it wouldn't, it felt like it was going to snap like a twig. The route I was running was a loop and I was a long ways from home. If the storm comes then there is nothing you can do about it. Stop trying to outrun the storm and just run.
So I slowed down and concentrated on straightening my stride out. One foot in front of another. One foot in front of another. Don't go fast. Just go.
Just go. Sometimes I imagine myself running with my Ghosts of Running Past. High School Chris, wiry and with a goofy shrub of facial hair on his chin, ran the 800 meters in track and thus is always faster than me. But here's the thing. When I concentrate on just running, when I am not forcing it because of some kind of clock in my head, I can run miles further than High School Chris ever imagined.
And I take some solace in that spiritually too. I don't have the spiritual fire that I had when I was sixteen or seventeen years old. There is something good to be said for that fervor. However, when I concentrate on humbly following God step by step, when I am not trying to force my faith to look and be a certain way, I can go further with God. I am not "there" by any stretch and sometimes I wish I could time travel to tell High School Chris that "there" probably doesn't exist.
But more than anything, it reminds me to breathe, to live with the doubts, to put one step in front of the other, to not force, to not worry about what others would think, to trust God the best that I can each day. If the storms of life come, they will come. I can't do anything about that. I just have to run; even when it still feels like Lent the day after Easter.
Four hundred meters from the end of my run, I pass Christ the King Catholic Church. I am not Catholic, but I cross myself. I have done this for years when I run past churches. I am soaked to the bone; I am more water and mud than anything else. I look up at the falling rain. I remember my baptism. I remember a benediction that I first heard in college:
As you leave this place
may the Living Lord go with you;
May he go behind you, to encourage you,
beside you, to befriend you,
above you, to watch over you,
beneath you, to lift you from your sorrows,
within you, to give you the gifts of faith, hope, and love,
and always before you, to show you the way.
I feel peace, but also know that feeling is temporary. But I write this down to remember that insight from my run. You may not be able to outrun the storm, but just run. Put one foot in front of the other and Christ will go with you.