I get asked, just like you do, ¨what did you do last weekend?” This often leads me to talk about why I do what I do.
As an endurance athlete at heart, my one sentence answers of distances traveled on bike and on foot can be viewed as prideful boasting or attempts to make a point. Indeed, many people don’t know what to do with my answers and often respond with something that parallels, “that sounds uncomfortable,” or “why would anyone ever do that?” Since I have had a couple of those responses in the last few months, I am writing this blog. You see, my answers are a part of my faith.
At the core of the question of why, “what did you do with your free time?” lies the fundamental assumption that we all are striving for either more comfort or to maintain the joy that which we have found. When they hear 100 miles of cycling or 50 miles of running, there is an unspoken conclusion that these events were NOT comfortable. Some normal people conclude that these events are a form of lunacy and create an outcome opposite of what would have happened if I had stayed with family at home. Dead wrong.
I have not built my definition of comfort on those worldly premises. Comfort is not a big house or an ever growing 401(k). Comfort is not safe physical spaces filled with people you love and who love you back. As a Christian, I have a promise that following Christ will not be “comfortable” in the world’s definition. Indeed, Christ tells us that the act of following him will result in suffering, and sacrifice is an inseparable part of my why and Christian identity.
I find “comfort” when I am stripped down to raw emotion, unfettered with my thoughts or current events. When my spirit and emotions are rubbed down to their barest of levels, I get insight into my own identity that doesn’t happen if I am going out to eat with family or working on yard projects. In my Christianity, this is called faith “like a child,” because it is unencumbered by the world’s opinion. I intentionally push myself to places that require heroic effort to reach. Women with children understand this journey. Women are quick and confident when they share how becoming a mother changed them more than any other life event. I have spoken to female endurance athletes who say the act of childbirth has much in common with endurance racing. The act of completing these tasks is cleansing and full of renewal. Unfortunately, more people see endurance racing like going to funeral rather than childbirth.
Like all endurance athletes, though, there is baggage associated with these extremes. There always is a “what’s next,” side to conversation with family, friends and peers, and it is nearly always assumed that there is a next one on the list. My wife is sure that I will never have enough of a challenge. She hears me say, ¨”I will NEVER run the Badwater 135,” and hears, “maybe he will one day.” It disturbs her. She gets upset that I will get hurt. She fears having a disabled husband who could have prevented the entire incident if he had just a bit more self-control.
Like most wives, she is right. But there is more to it than why.
For those of you who seek traditionally defined comfort, you are normal. But, do you really think that leaving behind an untested, well-preserved body is how God made you, or were his parables in the bible attempts at humor?
God tells a story in the book of Matthew called the parable of the talents. In this story, talents are coins, but meant to serve as an analogy for God given gifts. In the story, a master entrusts each of three different servants with a fixed amount of coins. Two of the servants invest their talents and yield a return. When the master returns and seeks accountability for the gifts, they show what they did with their talents. They are well received and respected by their master. However, one servant fears failure and the risk associated with a bad outcome. He chooses not to use his talent but instead hides them awaiting his master’s return.
These talents are symbolic of the gifts that God gives us, and our bodies are one of them. Using your body as God intended includes sacrifice and risking the unknown. The obesity rate in our country shows how far Christian sacrifice has been replaced with Worldly comfort for modern Christians. Using your body as it is intended to be used means that you must risk the unknown, and sometimes, that includes suffering. In addition to the childbirth analogy, the adage quoted in nearly every gym of “no pain, no gain,” is an indication that in the world of fitness, suffering is a pre-requisite to achieving growth.
I cannot find comfort by hiding my gift under the rock of safety. My faith calls me to find comfort in expanding my talents, and this necessarily includes using my body in my why.
Risk aversion as a Christian is also problematic. If we look at the servant who took no risk, the master responds to him, calling him, “lazy and evil.” I have no interest in hearing that label applied to me on judgement day, considering who will be speaking it. Just like sacrifice and suffering, help minimize the risk of heart disease and diabetes, I have the ability to control the outcome by saying, “yes,” when others say, “no,” and “no,” when others say, “yes.”
I want to die knowing I challenged the shallow definition of comfort and took my commitment to my faith as intended. Last year, I feared both the Badwater Cape Fear and the Annapurna 100 Ultra Marathons. This year, I am doing two World Championships with my son watching me. Yes, I am scared, but that is a part of the reason I am doing it.
There is not enough space to write about the importance of my why and asking what scares you and how it is impacting your choices to play it safe. The enemy wants you to play it safe. The enemy is looking forward to you putting your “you” under a rock and awaiting Jesus to return in glory. I, for one, am not going to listen to the enemy in this matter.
That is why I enjoy being an endurance athlete.
That is why I AM an endurance athlete.