This month we asked our bloggers to share how they are caring for their bodies and souls in the midst of the demands of ministry. Here are their stories.
Guest Outpost blog by Jon Nelson
As soon as you identify yourself, the questions and concerns come.
“I’m a runner.”
Isn’t that bad for your knees? I can’t stand running. Why put yourself through that pain? I read running is bad for the back. Isn’t it lonely? Swimming is better for you. What are you running from?
Running is a sport of contradictions. It is solitary, but it also inspires community. It is private and public at once. It creates pain and pleasure. It is an obsession and many runners are in recovery for addiction.
Perhaps it is because of these contradictions that runners receive so much criticism. That, or as runners like to think, running is a visible reminder of the possibilities of personal improvement.
The annals of running are full of amazing stories of how people have changed their lives by lacing up. There is the alcoholic who overcomes addiction by becoming an ultramarathoner. The person who loses hundreds of pounds by pounding the pavement. The one who was once crippled with anxiety who found more and more peace with every stride. There is the program that passes out running shoes to inspire personal discipline. Blood cholesterol levels reducing. Moods improving. The stories are endless and well documented.
Fortunately, as running has become known as an avenue for personal growth, the criticisms of it have waned. The running path leads toward wellbeing. The run is an opportunity for self-care.
My morning run is the way that I care for my mind and body. Before the tasks of the day overwhelm, I put on my shoes. All unnecessary worries are left in the dust. As anxieties vacate my system, I become more focused on what is more important for my day. The more I push myself in distance or speed, the more intention I have for my day. Some people still themselves in meditation; I find stillness in speed. Some make to-do lists to prioritize; I make a daily log of miles. And it helps me focus.
If I am running from anything, it is from the screens that keep me sat in a seat. My phone, email, social and news media beg for my attention. But my run helps me notice nature, my neighborhood, my breath, what is happening in my head and in my body. I am less distracted. I am attuned to my God-given body and that body’s abilities. With this attention to my inner life, body, neighborhood and natural surroundings, I am able to give thanks to God. I am able to pray.
Presbyterians can sometimes be given to long prayers, but when I am running my prayers are short and simple. Anne Lamott captures these running path prayers well: help, thanks, wow. The sport is simple. You just put one foot in front of the other. In doing so, all things become simple — even prayer.
Churches, committees and councils are increasingly concerned with how church leaders take care of themselves. This is because the model for ministry has often been this: Run yourself ragged. The consequences have been severe burnout. So maybe it is a bit ironic to say that running hard will help leaders not run ragged. However, exercise like this has the capacity to reprioritize things, much like prayer, fellowship, contemplation and worship. This is the kind of personal work that helps church leaders not work too hard.
Some people still assume that running is a form of self-abuse and so they are trying to care for those who run with all of the questions and concerns above. I must insist: Running may well be a form of self-care.
JON NELSON is the associate pastor of Ark and Dove Presbyterian Church in Odenton, Maryland. He is a lover of music, good stories, running (obviously), his wife and his baby boy.