The Spiritual Journey Is a Marathon
One of the managers at work declared she wanted to run the Boston Marathon by the age of 30. She had done a little bit of research, knowing that she would have to qualify for it by running another marathon in three and a half hours. She did the calculations, which meant running the 26.2-mile distance at an 8-minute pace.
“I can run a mile in 8:30,” she said. “I can shave that down.”
I was slightly jealous because I knew my 10-minute training pace often broke down to a 10:30 pace in the marathon.
She asked if she could run with me. I told her that my pace was much slower than hers. She didn’t mind, she said. She just wanted to start training.
She met me at the trails and told me why she wanted to run Boston. She had seen a man who had a running jacket that said, “I’ve run Boston, have you?” She dreamed of wearing that jacket.
She followed common advice to reach her goals. She set a deadline for herself and told others who would hold her accountable. Now she was out on her first training run.
We started our three-mile path. I told her that if she wanted to run faster then she could do so, and I would catch up.
After less than half a mile, she was tanked. She was completely out of breath. We walked for a few minutes, and I suggested an easier path. I also told her to run slowly behind me to get used to an easier, more sustainable pace.
I could hear her panting and moaning behind me. She told me she had to stop.
As we took a shortcut out of the woods, she told me a little more about her running practice. She said she could run one mile at an 8:30 pace. She hadn’t run further than that.
I suggested for her to practice running at a slower pace until her system got used to running for longer sessions. She could also do her faster pace for shorter intervals with walk breaks in between.
This caused her panic. The deadline in her mind — to run Boston — was coming in less than two years. Her vision of wearing the “I’ve run Boston” jacket would require a little more effort and time than she had anticipated. She gave up the dream and running altogether.
This sometimes happens with our spiritual practices. We want the finish line prize without the training. We want the bliss of enlightenment right now.
We see others living a life that we want, but we have no idea the hurdles — or the miles — they have run to get there. We think that the journey will be filled with poppyseeds and roses, but there are thorns also.
We want the bliss of enlightenment right now.
Our spiritual path isn’t a short sprint. It’s a journey that will have several stopping points along the way. We also have to fuel ourselves properly for the journey. This requires a little discipline.
Like training for a race, the spiritual path takes daily investment. We can use certain role models to motivate us when we’re struggling to breathe, but the role models can’t breathe for us. They also can’t run or walk for us. We must lace up our shoes and run the road before us.
We might be discouraged when we come upon a mountain. We can retreat and leave the trail altogether. We can take an easier path that might be longer. Or we can take the high road, the path forward, the path upward, the path of long-suffering.
We don’t set deadlines to reach a goal that only has meaning for our pride.
We see the worn path of those who have chosen the easier road. We also see the footsteps of those who have chosen the straight path, and we know we never walk alone.
We endure the hard path not because it gets us there quicker, but because we know it gives us strength for the journey. We can walk it slow or we can choose to sprint. We can take a rest along the way. We’re in no hurry. We don’t set deadlines to reach a goal that only has meaning for our pride.
A spiritual practice never ends in our lifetime. It has movement and rest. The most important thing is not whether we choose an easy road or a hard one, but that we don’t give up.