For more than a decade now I have been running almost exclusively by myself. I have a fairly regular distance that I travel and, wherever I may be living at the time, I run virtually the same route every time. This may sound monotonous to some, but I am relatively comfortable with it. As a matter of fact, I enjoy it.
Recently, though, my routine had a proverbial wrench thrown into it. One of our high school seniors from the church who lives down the street from me asked if I wanted to run with her one Saturday. I agreed. Of course, I agreed with conditions. I wanted to run my route, my distance. She, being younger and in superior athletic condition, agreed.
So the running day came. Worried that I might not be able to keep up -- or worse yet that I might keel over in front of the young lass -- I had begun mentally preparing myself for the challenge. Surely, at the very minimum, I didn't want to embarrass myself.
When she showed up, I was uneasy but off we ran. To my surprise, though, her pace was about half the speed of mine. I hadn't even considered that she is shorter than I, and as such her stride is shorter. I soon found myself slowing down so as not to run off from her. My breathing was much calmer than normal, and I found that I began to be more concerned about my running partner's well-being than my own. Before I knew it, we had gone the agreed upon distance. She then suggested that we go farther. I hadn't been farther in a long time but I felt pretty good, so we continued on. By the time we had finished, we had doubled my normal distance, and we had exceeded the standard route. Afterward, I felt like I could have tripled or even quadrupled the distance I had routinely done for the past decade. Next time I run with her I plan to try to do so.
Thinking back on it, my running experience is a lot like going to church. So often as human beings we believe we can make it on our own. We find ways to manage and even do "well" in, our lives. We get into a comfortable routine. We plod through the same route over and over, pushing ourselves with our own expectations, somehow thinking they will make us our best.
Unfortunately, much like my decade of running by myself, we actually limit ourselves in isolation. We tend to put the emphasis on the wrong things; we set the wrong pace; we judge others and ourselves inappropriately; and, in the end, we are left with a race run short when we actually could have run and experienced so much more.
For many, a community of faith serves as a environment by which we can gauge our progress, better our pace, focus our energies, right our wrongs, live in grace and learn how we can be a better version of what we believe that God calls to be.
Of course, for many, church also comes with a lot of apprehensions: "Can I maintain my privacy?" "Can I keep my constants that keep me undisturbed and comfortable?" "Might I still generally keep my status quo life?"
To all such questions, I would answer: "Probably not."
But, I can assure you, that having someone to run the race with you far exceeds all of the benefits that you think you have when you are trying to run it alone.
The Rev. Christopher Benek is the associate pastor of family ministries at Providence Presbyterian Church. Read his blog at www.christopherbenek.com.