Some of you knew me when I was training for that 5K. Remember that? It’s been a while. But, while I was getting ready for that race, running was my world. I ate to run. I slept to run. I planned my day around running.
At first, running intimidated me. I had run track in high school, and I was convinced I would never run again. I figured I was all run out. But the training actually worked. I found myself looking forward to the running, and I used it for inspiration on many occasions.
That was in 2011, and that year I started training in January, for a race taking place that spring. On the day of the race, I ran my best time ever, and I placed in an impressive spot in my age group. It was a great experience.
I ran another 5K the following October, and it wasn’t quite as impressive. I hadn’t trained. Not like that first time. I’d run a few shabby 5Ks on the treadmill, and I’d run a few good ones, too. But I wasn’t really into it, you know?
Last week, I agreed to run the Turkey Trot with H. When I told H I’d run the race, I hadn’t done any running since last summer. Since then, I’ve run one mile. I’ve walked a few city blocks, and through quite a few airport terminals. But, I’ve also eaten ice cream, and pizza, and I’ve had glasses of red wine while sitting with friends at beautiful dinner tables. I’ve eaten white chicken chili and bread and waffles. Not all in one sitting. But still.
A girl can only consume so much without exercising before it begins to slow her down, or spill over the top of her jeans, or jiggle a bit when her car hits a bump in the road.
Today in church, H talked to us about using our spiritual gifts. He told us he’ll deal with the specific gifts in the weeks ahead, but today he wanted to remind us that God gave us our gifts for a reason. And that we all have them. Once we decide Jesus is the one we’re following, the Holy Spirit generously settles unique gifts right into our spiritual DNA. It’s fascinating!
In the beginning, when we first decide to follow Jesus, we’re like a runner signing up for her first 5K. We need someone to tell us how it’s done. So, we go to church and we sit in the pew and we soak it all in. Eventually, we might find our way to a bible study or small group where we soak in some more. Then, we find ourselves soaking up time alone, reading our bible and praying to God, and we might even start listening to Christian radio or going to Christian conferences and retreats.
Eventually, however, we reach that infamous tipping point, and our spiritual blue jeans might start feeling a bit snug around the waist. When that happens to me, it’s because I’ve been consuming more than I’ve been exercising. God gave me my spiritual gifts as a way to exercise my faith, to serve the Body of Christ, and to love God and my neighbor. When I start thinking it’s all about me “being fed,” I may have crossed over into dangerous territory and, before I know it, I find myself hoarding my spiritual gifts while growing slower and less fit with each passing day.
I’m just going to be honest, here. Hoarding spiritual gifts and refusing to participate as part of the Body of Christ makes a person and a church spiritually morbidly obese. We sit heavy in our pews, or folding chairs, or stacking chairs, critiquing the praise team or the choir, nursing grudges toward our fellow congregants, complaining about the length of the sermon, passing by one another without making eye contact. We look down our noses at the dad whose baby cries through the offering, or at the older woman whose hearing aid keeps beeping. We lose our patience when the tech team fails to advance the slides fast enough. We yawn and we go home, unimpressed, and then we say, “I don’t know. I’m not getting fed there anymore.”
(Of course, I’m not talking about a church that really should be left. I’m reminded of a church I’d wanted to visit for decades. Seriously. Decades. One Sunday, my little family made our way to that church and we were so excited to have a chance to sit in the ornate sanctuary and listen to the pipe organ and the well-rehearsed choir. Then, when the preacher got up to speak, he spoke for twenty minutes without ever reading from the bible, or mentioning Jesus. On Sunday, I expect to hear about Jesus. That Sunday, I didn’t hear about Jesus at all. Not once. Not even an, “…in Jesus’ name, amen.” That church would not have been for me. Surely, you have your own examples, and you know I’m talking about something different.)
Sometimes, we need to roll up our sleeves, lace up our spiritual running shoes, and check in at church to see what it is we can give. How we can serve. How we can be Jesus to someone else who’s just making her way to the starting line, or getting up off the couch for the very first time. We need to exercise our faith, by giving those spiritual gifts a try. We might find ourselves a bit wobbly and winded at first. But over time, and with practice, we keep remembering to lean into the Holy Spirit and before we know it, we’re running without getting tired; walking without passing out. We surprise ourselves by how much easier it is to get along with that person who used to get on our last nerve. We discover extra patience and reserves of grace. And the Holy Spirit keeps surprising us with mile after mile of breath and life.
I needed that reminder today.
Do you remember reaching a tipping point in your spiritual journey, where you moved from being a consumer in church, to an active participant? If you haven’t reached that tipping point yet, why do you think that is?
A few notes: I’m looking forward to telling you all about my time in NYC, at the #QWomen event. It was really amazing, and I’ll share more later this week. I was interviewed for a new web site called How They Blog, and that interview will run on Monday. I hope you’ll visit me over there, where you’ll see a lot of faces that will probably look familiar.. And, finally, I’m linking up today with Michelle…