Running with Him: Becoming a Christian one step-at-a-time
With Your Strength. In Your Honor. For Your Glory.
It has been rare for me to speak about my faith publicly. And, although I do so on a more regular basis in comparison to the past, it is still something that only my close friends and family are aware of. I grew up Catholic, attended a Jesuit College in the Northeast and participated in a Fellowship of Christian Athletes (FCA) bible study group occasionally while on campus. But, truthfully, I didn’t find my Christian faith foundation until 2011 when my friends convinced me to start attending church again. This marked the beginning of my personal exploration of getting to know Jesus — a time when I started to connect the divergent dots, experiences, and lessons that were etched into my being from my family, my Jesuit education, my Catholic upbringing, and many other life experiences which I have only just started to scratch the surface of. In other words, since 2011, I started to become a “Conscious Christian” that was actively seeking to understand the meaning of my life, God’s will, and the teachings of Jesus.
To adequately capture how I have come to know Jesus and his teachings, you have to understand my running journey. My journey in faith is not one that screams of the dramatic or one that has a face-value life altering experience. It has been a quiet and calm journey that I hope others can identify with, learn from, and be inspired to see their journey as equally worthy of sharing. In 2016, in preparing for my second Boston Marathon, I had a phrase that continuously went through my head during training season: “With Your Strength. In Your Honor. For Your Glory.” These three simple phrases, which I often cite to myself at different stages of a run, have reminded me of what it means to be a Christian:
- A Christian supported by the strength of Jesus,
- A Christian that strives to live a life to honor Jesus’ sacrifice, and
- A Christian that is aware that all things on this world are temporary and all glory is to God.
I am not an expert on Christianity. In fact, writing this is an act of humility — I even had to research if it was appropriate to write Christian or (small c) christian. Writing this allows me to live out a belief that I hold dear, and one that gives me hope; to have a relationship with Christ does not require expertise, but rather a humble and open heart. In writing this, I am trying to convey to others that it is in fact possible to tell your story when you may not find it particularly unique from that of others. In the polarized, and sometimes highly toxic world we live in today, the average stories among us are not shared. At least they are not shared at the same rate as the extravagant.
When they go unsaid, they go unnoticed — never considered to be part of the collective narrative.
For me, running is an experience, a challenge, a moment in time where I can process life, and, most importantly, time for me to connect with God. While running I often listen to sermons and/or informational podcasts. However, I was not always this way. I used to be a very athletic person (a Division I College Hockey Athlete) but I dreaded the one mile run and often laughed at and mocked people that said running was a fun or a cathartic experience. To think that I would occupy two hours of my afternoon to run between 10–20 miles and do so willingly, seemed like a ludicrous idea. I did not understand it, nor did I want to put myself through that.
My evolution of running rapidly evolved when I witnessed my first ever Boston Marathon in person in 2011. Like many Bostonians, I took a longer than usual break on Marathon Monday to head downtown to watch what I deemed “senseless individuals” finish the Boston Marathon. We planned to arrive when the leaders finished but were delayed in our arrival and only made it to the finish line when the common-folk runners began to arrive in Boston. I watched as a surprisingly diverse group of individuals steamed down Boylston while thousands of ecstatic crowd members cheered them on with such vigor and enthusiasm that I was quickly caught up in the moment. The diversity of runners surprised me because I had always thought of Marathon runners to be short, skinny, and long legs — however, the eclectic group pouncing down the Boston streets varied in shape, size, sex, athletic appearance, and age — some fit my pre-determined definition of a marathon runner and others were far from it. Unlike many people watching a marathon, I thought to myself: “I want that. I want that amount of pain, sweat, and moment of ecstasy that they all have right now.”. And, because of the diversity of people that I saw running, I thought to myself the pivotal thought: “There is no reason I can’t have it. I am athletic enough, determined enough, and driven enough to make it happen”. I took the T back to work and didn’t tell anyone about my internal conversation.
I went home, went for a slight run to think things through — something I would later find to be the only way to truly think things through — and I made the decision to take one step forward; I found a half marathon in Boston about a month away and I signed up on a whim. Motivated and inspired by the pain of the 2011 Marathon runners, I had signed up for the Boston Run to Remember that was set to run on memorial day in 2011. I went out and bought a new pair of running shoes and I started to train like a true novice runner — I just ran a lot and I ran as fast as I could; as much as I could…