Three days after my sixteenth birthday my father died after suffering a third heart attack. In retrospect this should have been no surprise. Dad’s upbringing was before we knew what we know today about the perils of high cholesterol, lack of exercise, and stress. Dad’s typical childhood breakfasts of bacon and toast fried in the drippings, a nervous condition resulting from a wartime double posting in isolation, and the years that followed at a desk job had all taken their toll.
That was 1967. I was just sixteen — a time when I needed a dad the most, but he was gone.
The following year Dr. Kenneth Cooper’s ground-breaking book Aerobics hit the stands. It promoted the seeming wild notion that exercise, not bed rest, was in order for heart patients. The heart was a muscle and like any muscle it would respond to being challenged. It could be made stronger. “Use it or lose it” became a catch phrase and the streets became peppered with crazy fools we called “joggers.”
Eventually we learned of the dangers of cholesterol… that diet just might affect heart and whole body health, and that heredity could play a role in one’s tendency to heart issues as well. The “crazy joggers” were gaining respect and we began to call them “runners.” It wasn’t long before I decided I too needed to eat better and get moving. I began to run.
“A father to the fatherless, a defender of widows” is the Lord, sang David – Ps. 68:5 (NIV). Indeed, He was this to me — especially as I ran. I ran in the early morning, before dawn, and ran till the sun awoke across the horizon. I listened… to nature… to scriptures… to songs of praise… and I listened to God, my Father. I cried, I rejoiced, and I prayed… till the fall of 2012.
A decades old back injury worsened by the slow deterioration of osteoporosis could no longer be compensated for by the surrounding muscles. In an instant my running career ended, and with it that glorious early morning tryst with my Father.
Scripture speaks much likening our spiritual journey in Christ to the course of a runner.
“Do you not know that those who run in a race all run, but only one receives the prize? Run in such a way that you may win.” – 1 Corinthians 9:24-27
“…holding fast the word of life, so that in the day of Christ I will have reason to glory because I did not run in vain nor toil in vain.” – Philippians 2:16
“…let us run with perseverance the race marked out for us…” – Hebrews 12:1
It speaks much also of our need to be “broken” before God.
“The sacrifices of God are a broken spirit, A broken and a contrite heart…” – Psalm 51:17 (NKJV)
“…break up your unplowed ground; for it is time to seek the Lord ” – Hoses 10:12 (NIV)
“…unless a kernel of wheat falls to the ground and dies, it remains only a single seed. But if it dies, it produces many seeds” – John 12:24 (NIV)
“God chose the foolish things of the world to shame the wise; God chose the weak things of the world to shame the strong.” – 1 Corinthians 1:27 (NIV)
“But he said to me, ‘My grace is sufficient for you, for my power is made perfect in weakness.’… when I am weak, then I am strong.” – 2 Corinthians 12:9,10 (NIV)
I knew my Heavenly Father had allowed my running career to come to a halt that day. I knew His Will is sovereign. As much as I dearly loved running I knew I had to surrender it to Him. I had to be broken, broken enough to say with Job,
“The Lord gave, and the Lord has taken away; Blessed be the name of the Lord.” – Job 1:21b (NKJV)
As a Christian I continue to “run the race laid out for me” and to run it in the only way that will ensure success, in brokenness and submission before Him. As Paul stated it,
“Forgetting what is behind and straining toward what is ahead, I press on toward the goal to win the prize for which God has called me heavenward in Christ Jesus.” – Philippians 3:13b,14 (NIV)