I understand where the question comes from. People want to make conversation. We look for points of contact, things that we know about one another, to show our care for and interest in one another’s lives.
The people who know me know that I run. So the question, “are you still running?” is a natural one.
There would have been a time when I might have answered this question with either a proud yes or an apologetic no. Sometimes I would half-heartedly take up running for a while. Sometimes I would find other ways to fill my time. Running was a means to an end (weight loss/management) and the only reason why I did it at all was because it seemed to be so effective. Like most not-too-pleasant chores, however, it was easy to talk myself out of carving out the time to strap on my shoes and rack up some mileage.
I don’t run now to lose or manage weight. This, for me, is an experience of grace. Somehow along the way, running went from being something I thought I should do to something that blesses me. Consequently, it no longer feels like a choice. It’s just part of the fabric of how I spend my time and structure my days. I eat, I work, I pray, I spend time with my family and friends, I sleep, I run. Sometimes I am training for a race, and so my mileage is a little more structured and carefully planned. Sometimes my running is more frivolous and leisurely. For years now, running is part of me.
I always say that being part of a church is a lot like diet and exercise. Participating in the worship, service, and fellowship of a community of faith is most effective, life-giving and doable when it moves from being a choice that we make to part of the fabric of our lives. The thing is that, like running, it does take quite a lot of showing up and going through the motions—even when we don’t feel like it—before that shift takes place. That shift is a gift. It’s a gift to find that your life has been bolstered by the infrastructure of gratitude, prayer and community, by the specific lens that begins to develop in your life when you surround yourself with people who are committed to showing up and paying attention to the presence and power of God at work in our lives. It’s a gift to have habits that shift from chores or duties to blessings and privileges.
COVID-19 has substantially altered the fabric of our lives. All of us have had to figure out new patterns of daily and weekly living. And then, according to public health measures, variants and case numbers, we have had to adapt those patterns again. And again. Those of us for whom church life has been part of the air we breathe have had to figure out what fellowship, prayer and worship look like according to new online habits. For many people over the course of lockdown living, those patterns were changed and reset. Others found the online offerings allowed an entrance into church life that they hadn’t experienced as possible before. Church habits were broken, but also formed, during this pandemic. Regardless of where in that equation we ourselves fall, the truth is that we’re all in the process of remaking our lives in the wake of the disruption that is COVID-19. We’re all in the process of figuring out how we integrate the things that matter most to us back into our patterns of daily living.
And we’ll likely have to keep figuring that out, because the upheaval of COVID isn’t over, nor do any of us ever get the benefit of ever just staying still. Pandemic or not, our own lives and our lives in community are continually held in the flux of birth, death and rebirth that is the reality of life in this universe.
Which is maybe where I ultimately fall in terms of responding to that question, “are you still running?” It’s offered as a conversation starter. But it points to a truth that I don’t want to forget. Today, I get to run. Today my legs work and my breath is steady and I can lace up my shoes and put a few more kilometers on them. But as St. Paul reminds us in his second letter to the church in Corinth, “we have this treasure in jars of clay.” It is all, in the end, very fragile and fleeting. Death, disruption and change are our constant companions, even when it feels like we are living habits that are entrenched and when we trick ourselves into believing that any of this is permanent or that we are somehow entitled to hold on forever to the gift that is our lives in this world.
Today I run. I try to remember to give thanks. I seek patterns that sustain and strengthen me for the curveballs that life will throw my way and throw our way. And as Paul goes on to note in response to his naming our lives as small breakable jars, we look to join all of our little deaths into the death of Jesus so that a light that can’t be extinguished can be revealed in us too.