Vice Column: Running as martyrdom

Clement Harrold

Student Government Vice President

I hate running. It’s intense, it’s painful, it’s tiring and almost from the moment I start, I just want it to be over. I also suck at it. Kind of like my spiritual life, come to think of it.

And yet, just as with my spiritual life, in spite of all my laziness and whining, I can’t help but recognize the objective goods in running: it keeps me healthy, it makes me a better man and it even makes me feel great (after the fact, of course).

In short, I realize that running is a good thing to do, even if it’s really painful. Again, just like my spiritual life.

Obviously, this analogy between physical and spiritual health didn’t originate with me. Always practical and down-to-affair in his epistles, it’s St. Paul who reminds us that, “Athletes exercise self-control in all things; they do it to receive a perishable wreath, but we an imperishable one” (1 Cor 9:25).

Perhaps this is a stretch from a historical standpoint, but I find it fun to imagine a young, fit St. Paul rising early in the morning during his stay in Athens and going for a run along the seafront on his way to the Acropolis.

In another place, Paul says, “Train yourself in godliness, for, while physical training is of some value, godliness is valuable in every way” (1 Tim 4:7-8). Maybe we’re tempted to take these words as suggestive that physical training is no big deal, that it’s only the spiritual training that really counts.

But that’s not how I interpret it at all. Paul explicitly reminds us that physical training is of some value, not least because of the discipline and virtue it instills in us — which in turn makes the spiritual life that bit easier.

“Run so as to win,” Paul exhorts us. As Christians, we ought to be excelling in all areas of our lives, and by training ourselves physically, we prepare ourselves with a greater capacity for self-gift in the spiritual sphere.

When I run, I am reminded of so many of the things that I need to hear in my spiritual life just as much as my physical. For one, it’s a reminder that just because I don’t enjoy doing something, that doesn’t mean I shouldn’t do it.

But in addition to whatever disciplines and healthy habits running gives me, at a deeper level it also teaches me the basic truth of that old adage: no pain, no gain. More than just a motivational talking point, this principle is one which lies at the very heart of the Christian life: no pain, no gain; no suffering, no sanctity; no cross, no crown.

If running teaches me anything, it is that this life is a pilgrimage, or more precisely, a martyrdom. It is a daily dying to self for the sake of the good, without which the Christian life simply is not possible. If we fail to run the race, we sure can’t expect to win the prize.

If we fail to live out our daily vocation of white martyrdom, then we might as well admit that we aren’t serious about this whole Christianity business. But if we are serious, if we really do mean it, then we need to realize that dying to self — daily martyrdom — is not some lofty ideal but a daily necessity. Running the race is a basic obligation, not an optional extra.

Ultimately, then, I run for the same reason I pray: not because I always enjoy it, but because I know I always need it.

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *