You have to walk before you run.
Recently I was reminded of the wisdom of that old saying as I’ve been trying to get back to running on a regular basis. While being a pastor is work, it is obviously not physically active work, so I need to intentionally set aside time to exercise. Because it seems there are always more things for me to do than I have time, I must look for balance between work, family, and play, and make exercise a priority. For me, running seems to be the best fit. I can burn a lot of calories in a fairly short time. I can do it according to my own schedule. I don’t need a lot of extra equipment. It gets me outside. And I actually feel good when I get done.
I never intended to run in the first place. I started walking with Aimee because it was a good chance to spend time with her and we could get a nice discount on our health insurance. We needed to walk 150 minutes (or 50,000 steps) a week. So, we planned to walk for 3 miles, three times a week. After a while we were covering more than three miles in the 50-minute time period, so we stretched the distance. Then we extended the time. Then we started going five times a week. On days we couldn’t walk outside we used the treadmills in our apartment.
One day, I thought to myself, “I think I could run for a while.” I ran for about a half mile and then walked, ran for another half a mile and completed four miles. After a few days of this, I decided to see if I could go for a whole mile without stopping. It didn’t take long and I found that I could run for three miles without a break for walking. Since that time, I’ve always found the first mile of every run to be the most difficult. Once I make it past one mile it is surprising how far I could go. At my peak I could run 13 miles at a 9 minute 30 second per mile pace and 3 miles at an 8 minute per mile pace, not world-class performance, but respectable for someone in his upper 50s.
I didn’t realize how hard it is to do this, until I got away from it from awhile and tried to start back up. When I began to run a few years ago, I had no expectations, so I worked my way slowly and gradually. It was easy to see each little improvement as an accomplishment. Now, I remember what I could do at my peak, and it’s frustrating to think that I can’t do that now. I have to admit I also feel a bit guilty about taking my fitness for granted and letting all the progress slip away. Now, I’m tempted to push too hard before my body is ready for more speed and distance. So far, I have not given in to that temptation and have avoided hurting myself. I can start to feel my leg muscles and lungs getting stronger. After a little more than a month, I cover about 30 miles a week and run about a third of that time. And I keep reminding myself: “You have to walk, before you can run.”
Now, I know you’ve heard more than enough about me. But I use myself as an example, not because I’m doing something special, rather because I understand struggling to establish healthy routines and habits. And it occurred to me, that this may have application for many of us in our spiritual disciplines like daily prayer or devotions or Bible study or worship.
Maybe you’ve never really done any of these things. Maybe you do all of them regularly. Maybe you used to do one or more of these, but you’ve fallen away from it. Maybe you would like to establish or re-establish one or more of these disciplines in your daily routine, but you’re not sure how. Maybe you feel guilty for failing to appreciate or losing what you once had.
I would offer a couple of suggestions:
- It’s a matter of priorities and balance. You have to intentionally set a regular time and do it even when you have other important things to do. Nothing is more important than your spiritual health and well-being.
- Start slowly. You have to walk before you can run. If you haven’t been having personal daily devotions, start with a short Bible reading and the Lord’s Prayer. After a while you can add a short devotional. Don’t bite off more than you can handle, or you’ll end up frustrated.
- Don’t be afraid of trying something new! Afraid to come to Bible study because you might not know as much as the other participants? Don’t be! All of us start as beginners, and even the most advanced biblical scholars will tell you that they’re always learning something new. Often that’s because someone new has asked a question that has gotten them to think about a teaching or passage in a new way.
- Don’t be afraid of failure! If you miss a day or two, start back up. You can’t do much about what has happened yesterday, but you can do something about today.
- Always remember: The first mile is the toughest. Once you get a good start the rest of it goes much easier.
- Enjoy your time in your spiritual discipline. Find what works best for you and do it with joy. What could be better than growing in the wisdom and grace of our Lord Jesus Christ? What could be better than spending some time alone with your Savior or in fellowship with your brothers and sisters in Christ!