I hurt. I should be walking through the doors of church right now but instead, I’m still lying in bed with my feet hooked on the end of the mattress, gently stretching out my calve muscles while I write. I’m going to miss church this morning, which means there will be no one to lead youth. I’m also going to miss our fundraiser – the men’s group is selling the best barbecue this side of heaven – which is going to directly benefit the youth group. I should be there but I couldn’t push myself to get out of bed this morning. I’ve been enduring one pain after another for a while now, but yesterday took the cake in the duration and intensity. Although I can’t be sure of a proper diagnosis, I’m fairly confident in my educated guess that all of this can be attributed to a lack of stretching before and after my runs.
Did you know that your hamstrings can tighten so much that they can pull your pelvis out of place? I didn’t either. When I abruptly stopped my half-marathon training in January to pacify my daughter and went from running 25-35 miles a week to running nothing for two months, I gave no thought to the creeping tightness in the back of my left leg. Nor did I connect it to the first twinge in my upper back. I wondered about the lack of running being connected to the stiffness that set in to my lower spine, and when my gait became uneven, I knew a trip to the chiropractor was in order. But I didn’t know it was all because I hadn’t stretched.
The chiropractor straightened me out and educated me on the hamstring. He warned me to stretch it out properly every day before I left his office. I should have listened, but who has time for stretching, right?
My mom and I go to the gym M-F. I only live two and a half miles from the gym so I get up in the morning, lace up my running shoes and meet her there. I walk about a minute up the hill from my house and then take off toward the gym. I used to do a five-minute walk to warm my muscles up before running, but now that I’m meeting mom at the gym, I don’t have time for that. She gets to the gym ahead of me and does ten minutes of cardio so that when I get there, we can head straight into lifting. I might stretch my arms a little after signing in, but here lately, I’ve had to be back home within half an hour of getting there, in order to take my son to football practice, so we move right in to lifting without stretching. My mom drops me off at home afterward and my son meets me at the door ready to go. I drive him to school while my muscles cool off and then go home to take a shower and get ready for the day.
I think my body is in revolt. The chiropractor warned me about what can happen if I don’t stretch my muscles, but he didn’t tell me about the creeping pain that starts out subtle and turns into a fire. He didn’t tell me about all of my muscles coming together in defiance to torment me while I sit helplessly behind the wheel of my car on a long drive, unable to stretch them out. He didn’t tell me that not stretching my muscles could cause a mutiny in my body.
It seems silly to be telling you all this, but although I’m not at church, the Holy Spirit has been ministering to me all morning and the lesson started with this musing. See, my current physical situation mirrors my spiritual one: I’ve been in pain for quite some time, and most likely, it’s because I haven’t taken time for the things that matter.
I’m into the final stretch of raising two kids on my own. Thus far, I’ve made it through a combination of prayer, fasting and constant surrender to the Lord. I have pleaded for His wisdom and strength, as well as His provision and comfort. God has not failed me. But this final stretch … well, it’s a lot like any final stretch for me while running. I’m not the kind of person to look at the finish line and press harder toward it. I see a finish line and quit trying early because I can see it … I’ll get there eventually. That last little bit of the race is so hard! That’s why I stop running. It’s so painful. My muscles have already endured so much and I’m ready for it to be over. If I push through, I put my muscles through the worst pain of the race! Why not just walk it in? I’ll get there eventually.
Raising teenagers is hard work. It’s the last leg of the race, I’m exhausted and this is the most intense moment of parenting. It seems endless, although people will tell you, “It goes by so fast!” I silently lament, “Not fast enough!” I feel like I used to have allies in my home, and now my crew is in revolt. They seem to hate me in unison and attack me without provocation. It’s full on mutiny.
I’m not naïve enough to believe this battle is avoidable. This is just how raising teenagers goes. They literally fight you to become their own person. No one who’s done it tells you it’s going to be easy … but nothing they say can prepare you for the mental breakdowns, the constant confrontation, or the letting go. I might have avoided some of the pain, though, if I’d taken time for what really helps. Prayer. Fasting. Constant surrender.
How is it that the things that matter most are the things we put off first? It seems rather lunatic to know that stretching after a work out is so vital, and yet one does not spend time doing it. The suffering for it is inevitable. Likewise, how lunatic to know how important prayer and surrender are and yet not taking time to do so. Especially on the last leg of the race! If I were a well-disciplined runner, I’d be pressing in toward the mark. I’m not, though. And because of that, I’m suffering at home instead of leading my teens in Bible study. Although right now, it’s a physical pain that has kept me in bed this morning, sometimes, it’s a spiritual battle that I’m losing because I’ve ceased trying.
I don’t know if any other runner out there will be straight up with you about running but let me be honest: running sucks. It’s never easy, and just when you think it might be getting easy, something inevitably slams you back into reality of how much it sucks. Why do we do it, then? To eat cake. To fit into our clothes. To see results just a little faster. So we don’t have to fad diet. For the carb loading. For the mental health benefits. Cheap therapy. To be introverted without being judged. The same is true of prayer and fasting. It’s not easy, by any means. To still yourself before God can be the hardest thing. To calm your flesh in the presence of the Holy Spirit is so difficult. To still your mind and quiet yourself so you can hear Him speak is like herding cats. Who has time for that? But listen to me: the benefits outweigh the pain, aggravation, whatever.
Clearly, taking a break from running and not stretching out my muscles regularly has been the worst physical fitness decision I have ever made. Similarly, not taking time for prayer and communion with God has had dire consequences in my daily race. The good news is that I woke up this morning determined to make a change. I might not have went to church, but I have been in the presence of the Holy Spirit, praying and stretching while I write. It’s never too late to get back into the race, friend. It’s never too late to bow before your King in surrender. It’s never too late to make time for the things that will really make a difference in your daily life. I urge you to decide today that things will be different and allow the Holy Spirit to teach you how to discipline yourself. You’ll be so grateful you did.