When I run, I hurt. Like all over and all the time. Yet, I keep doing it. Logic suggests that pain should raise an internal stop sign. That's just not the case for runners, though. In their pain they may see many red lights and stop signs, but like the finish line of a tough 5K or an Anthem Marathon, they see pain as something to run through and not something that draws their brakes to the floor.
Many days I do fit that mold, I suppose. Yet, I am not a runner.
I was in the middle of a fairly long and painful run earlier this week when the latest version of that conclusion greeted me. I have so many supportive friends who sometimes tease and other times with great sincerity tell me: "Keith, you are a runner." But today I realize I'm not, and I say that with great appreciation for the way runners band together and cheer each other on through each next stride.
If I'm not a runner, then, why do I continue to get out there and endure the torture? And believe me, I do always feel like I'm enduring the run and running fears nothing from of me. Here's my answer. Pain reforms my thinking. All the hours of random and useless thoughts disappear like last week's trash when I'm running, leaving me to focus on who I am and what's inside me that allows me to not only overcome pain, but see the value it contributes to my life beyond the finish line. Pain, no matter what form it comes in, helps reveal my true identity.
I don't think it's a coincidence that at the peak of the burn in my legs this week and while fighting to pull in what was surely going to be the very last breath of my life, I made the conscious decision to fight off all thoughts of pain just long enough for my mind to escape to someplace more meaningful. And where it went was to a pair of sermons I took in last Sunday. The first sermon challenged us to get off our butts and move outside the comfort of our church walls and connect with people. Quit liking the pictures on their Facebook page and go be in a couple of them. The second sermon, and I still find it surprising the two pastors didn't coordinated these messages, drove home the reality that outside of connecting with people, we have little chance of touching lives through our identity in Christ.
That is, of course, assuming our identity is rooted in Christ.
As I continued to run and those Sunday messages ran through my mind, they took me back to a conversation I had well over a year ago with Scott Menzies about his wife Meg. As different media outlets continued to report on her sudden death and attempted to capture the beautiful person she was, Scott told me how frustrating it was that no matter how hard he encouraged them to they wouldn't quote him on the one identity of Meg he wanted out there most. As I prepared to write about Scott running the 2014 Boston Marathon in Meg's honor, (The Boston Marathon, Finishing What She Started), Scott shared these words with me:
"During every interview I had this weekend, I said one thing over and over about Meg, but not one paper or television station reported it," Scott said. "I need you to write it. Meg was a good runner. She was a good mom, daughter, and wife. Meg did so many things good. But Meg did one thing great. Meg was a great Christian. That's the one thing I want people to know about Meg."
In replaying these words in my head, something struck me as it related to something our Pastor Chad asked the congregation during his message last week. He asked us in so many words: what would people attached your identity to?
I didn't know Meg, but as I've run into and met tons of people over the past couple of years who did, one thing is clear. All of them attach Meg's identity with her relationship with Christ. For those who knew her, Scott's challenging words were unnecessary. For those who didn't know her, though, his words are critical. They're critical for those who hear her story, and more importantly, much more importantly, for people like me who've accepted the challenge of using her running passion to connect with the world. His words are central to knowing and sharing and representing the image of Meg's true identity.
As I finished another long, painful run, and I lived with the reality that even after a year of running I physically felt no closer to being a runner than I ever have, I was comforted by the conversation I'd just had with myself (and God) over the previous six miles. I was reminded that I'm really not a runner, and that's more than alright with me. With that said, I have no intention of slowing the miles. Running allows me to connect with some incredible people. It allows me to share the hope and love that rests in my true identity. And it allows me to live out the identity of a wonderful Christian lady, who just so happened to be a pretty good runner.