lesson: lighten up!

When I started running, in my late teens, it was always a solo affair. I ran in my own little world, unconcerned by the passersby or anyone else’s expectations. Then I began dating the man who became my husband, and he was a runner too. It was natural that we would run together, as one of the ways to spend time in one another’s company. But this posed a problem: I had to push my pace in order to keep up with him and this meant that, at times, instead of maintaining my nice easy rhythm for the entire route, I was out of breath and stumbled to a complete standstill.

This was before I had heard about run-walk training, when you deliberately plan walk breaks at specific intervals throughout your run. So instead I came to a dead stop, bending over, holding my sides and panting until my heart rate dropped to a level at which I could talk. It was Tim who coached me to keep going when I felt like stopping, to reduce the pace to a gentle jog or to a walk if necessary, but to keep moving forward. 

And he was right. It’s so much harder to get going again once you have completely stopped. It is entirely possible to recover your breath while still in motion, and then to pick up the pace again when you’ve regained some strength.

Those early days of running came to mind when I was in the middle of a workout recently. The trainer of the particular program I’m following is all about finishing what we start! And she reminded us, at that point in the workout when my arms felt like jelly and I had forgotten why I thought the whole thing was a good idea in the first place, that it’s okay to switch to a lighter weight if it makes it possible to finish the reps without quitting. Lighter weights can help you finish with good form, which is what makes the exercise effective.

This week I have been leaning in to what this might look like in life in general. We passed the year anniversary of the first lockdown, and what a year it’s been! Then I factor in a lengthy discernment process that got derailed in the final stages, a young adult child returning home when she thought she’d be studying in the UK, her younger sister breaking her shoulder blade, and all the other concerns relating to extended family, and so on … it’s been a long haul. There are times when all this (whatever ‘this’ is in your life) catches up with us and we need to lighten up where we can.

manageable forward movement

I don’t know about you, but I have tended to live my life between full pace and a dead stop. When I’ve been feeling fresh and capable, I've taken on a tonne of things that, when I am feeling tired and depleted, feel too much. The easiest thing, in those moments, is to throw in the towel. I would come to a complete standstill - very much like those early runs with Tim - give up on what I started, bail on my goals or responsibilities. When we feel like we can’t push any more, what else can we do but admit defeat? 

Well, we can deliberately lighten the load. We can reduce the pace to something that, for us in that moment, is manageable. I can swing between feeling invincible and feeling like a failure because I can’t keep it up (whatever ‘it’ is - some rhythm of work, community or family life). Perhaps, though, there is an invitation here to embrace our limitedness and to simply be kind to ourselves? What would it look like not to lift so heavy, for a while? Could we trust that our stronger days will return, that in a little while we can increase our pace again, shoulder more weight once more? Giving ourselves permission, in this moment, to choose what is manageable.

In reality, lurching from a complete standstill to a running pace, and back again, takes a lot of energy. It is hard to get moving again, it’s pretty much like starting over and it feels even worse than the very beginning; we remember the work we have to put in to progress to where we were when we quit. Far better, then, to keep moving forward consistently, however slow that forward movement is. As Newton put it, a body in motion stays in motion.


How is the rhythm in your life? Where are you tempted to give up? In what ways could you lighten the load, extend kindness to yourself, in order to consistently keep moving forward, albeit more slowly for a while? Where in your life do you feel the need to recover your strength? What is the invitation of God to you in that area?


Loving God, teach us your life-giving rhythms of work and rest. Help us to embrace our limitations and to treat ourselves with kindness, in the way you do.