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I put my shoes on to run today and I was surprised by how quickly they have become dirty. This is not veiled bragging, don’t worry. I bought the shoes a little more than a month ago when I was in St. Louis. Stephanie was spending the day with her mom, so I convinced Laura to go shoe shopping (it didn’t take much convincing).
Steph always laughs when I buy new running shoes, because it normally means simply that I no longer like my current running shoes. I make all of these promises that I will only use the shoes for running, and that I am going to really dedicate myself this time. My philosophy with running shoes is like Mitch’s philosophy with pens: “I bought a seven dollar pen because I always lose pens, and I was got sick of not caring.” So I figure if I spend more, I’ll be sure to use them more. This time it will work out, I say.
But the fact is that once I get the cool new shoes that are comfortable and don’t yet smell like dead animals, I begin wearing them everywhere, and soon enough I forget about running altogether. That’s why Stephanie laughs—because I am truly ridiculous.
This time I bought white running shoes that tend more toward the dorky end of the design spectrum, and I did well at only using them for running. About three weeks ago I was running my favorite trail at the Rose Bowl while praying and thinking about Hebrews 11 and 12—that so many have run before, and that it was my turn to run this race with perseverance. When I got back up the hill and began walking to the car, I thanked God for the ability to run and had a strange thought come into my head: You are still running; you still need perseverance. I thought perhaps I knew what it meant.
Less than three days later my baby died and I caught my wife before she fell unconscious to the floor. In the hospital we had an ultrasound that confirmed nothing was left in the womb. Our first and second ultrasounds were bookends of promise and disappointment—parentheses marking a mere interruption to a way of life that would not change, actually.
When we got home several hours later and Stephanie fell asleep, I took a quiet, warm shower. After I got dressed in fresh clothes I stood barefoot at the opening of my closet and stared at my running shoes. You are still running; you still need perseverance. So I put them on.
Stephanie asked later that day about the shoes, but I was embarrassed and didn’t give much of an answer. The next day I wore them again, and at the OB-GYN Steph again asked me about them. I was embarrassed again and nearly cried. She pulled me aside later and told me that she wasn’t trying to make fun of me, but just wanted to know. So I told her how it was to remind me that I was running a race.
I wore them exclusively for a week and on the following Monday, seven days later, renewed my summer goal of getting used to flip flops. Stephanie asked me about the shoes. I was embarrassed. I didn’t want the running shoes to become an overused and undervalued symbol of spiritual struggle, but I also worried that I was giving up the race.
From reading the book of Hebrews, I always thought that faith was founded upon the faithfulness of God, which was clearly displayed in a divine cycle of promise and fulfillment spanning generations. Matt P. (not Matt the boss), who always sat in the second row with me in our class on Hebrews in seminary, said that his impression was almost exactly the opposite. He said that Hebrews—and especially my precious chapter 11—was about faith in the absence of fulfillment. The many who have run and not received a reward are those we now follow.
I have been aware that this running I do is part choice, but choice driven by impulse. Running is just something I do. When trials come, you strap on the shoes and run. When the promises are farthest away, you run the hardest. In the absence of a fulfillment of hope, or maybe even more in the presence of a contradiction to hope, all you have left is this running.
Abraham ran without knowing where he was going and, therefore, without knowing if he was even getting anywhere. And Abraham’s children run because that’s what our father did and generations of brothers and sisters can’t be wrong. We are a people who run and struggle in the silence because a voice long ago told us to. And we have this testimony from the cloud of witnesses: We ran, we died, we did not receive the promise. Yet I find myself lacing up the running shoes to follow in their footsteps.
I must be crazy.
Shame on me :-( I have not seen my running shoes since ages!
I really liked this post Peter. Thanks, for realsies. Nothing to add or argue with, it was just good to hear right now.
I also like sports metaphors in the least likely situations, but that has nothing to do with anything; I’m just letting you know.
all crazies unite! i’ll run, too, peter. thanks for posting this.
Can you fly you and your wife to Ingraham IL tomorrow so I can hug you both, cry with you, and run with you?
If not I guess the hug will have to wait - the other two will happen whether you’re here or not.
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