The Prayer – Conversations While Running Twenty Miles

One of my favorite assignments that my mentor teacher, Bill, gives his seniors is to write about a piece of music and weave it into a story or memory. Here’s a little reflection on prayer, running, and trying to hold onto faith.


Casting Crowns – Just Be Held

Hold it all together / Everybody needs you strong / But life hits you out of nowhere/ And barely leaves you holding on.

I was so prepared to write about this run. When I went out a week ago, I was already crafting titles in my  head. “The Gauntlet,” I’d thought at first because I was so sure it was my last pre-marathon test.  I did it out of the blue– went to bed on a Monday thinking, “Screw it, I’m gonna run tomorrow.”

So, when I went out that Tuesday afternoon, I was ready. I sprinted off-campus as soon as my students left the classroom, knowing I had 3+ hours of work ahead of me. I had my earbuds in, some good music, and I was ready to zone out.

But that didn’t happen. 

And when you’re tired of fighting/ Chained by your control/ There’s freedom in surrender/ Lay it down and let it go.

As my feet began to hit the pavement, my mind immediately starts racing.

I have about a million things running through my head at the moment, and if I’m being honest, I’ve been in a mood lately. Between the election, feeling burnt out about my work, facing a never-ending pile of student loans, and general uncertainty about my future, being an adult has been a bit tumultuous lately. Like I’ve said, I’m very happy, but I’ve perhaps been repressing some stuff with my usual strategy:

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Ok, I kid. The world is clearly not on fire, but I don’t think I’ve been honest with myself about how I’m doing.

The thing about running for 3-4 hours is that it doesn’t leave you with a lot of space to hide. You end up spending so much time with yourself, that you have no choice to but explore all the nooks and crannies of your psyche that you’ve been casually ignoring until now.

After a few minutes of trying to focus on the music, I gave up the ruse. I turned my music off, tucked them away, and decided it was time to let it go and finally start facing my self.

So when you’re on your knees and answers seem so far away….

For those first few miles, I flew. I was so preoccupied with myself that I was pounding the pavement with questions. ‘But what about…?’ ‘Or what if…?’ ‘How will I…?’ They’re the kinds of questions that don’t have any real answers– they burn in the belly, churning and steaming inside precisely because they are unanswerable and out of your control.

And that’s terrifying. It’s infuriating. In a world that is so desperate to ensure that I am well-planned– for my students, for my finances, for my career, for my love life, for my retirement– being unable to answer, ‘So, what’s next?’ makes my stomach hurt.

I know, I should be finding some kind of joy in it. I’m 29, have a good job and a nice boyfriend and live in Hawai‘i. The rest of my life will be plans and bills, why rush that? Why am I sitting here wallowing in a little puddle of misery and anxiety?

Still, the questions beat through my blood stream and I methodically place one foot in front of the other.

…You’re not alone, stop holding on and just be held.

It’s not until I reach the top of Diamond Head that it hits me.

“What are you holding on to all this for?”

I scrunch up my face. I haven’t been to mass in a few weeks, with no one to blame but myself. I tell myself I will find space in my life to pray on my own, and I try, but I know that I haven’t been putting the work into my faith as much as I wish I were.

So, I shrug. It’s not God, it’s me. I’ve been busy and stressed. I know that going to church will likely make me feel better, but I just haven’t been able to and I don’t really feel like the lecture. So, I shrug.

“All I’m asking if why you’re holding onto all this. You know you don’t have to.”

I raise my eyebrows. I had expected the quiet, loving lecture. The reminder to take care of myself, the call that asks me to put the work into myself the way I know I need to, the way that I deserve to. I had expected the mirror to be held up and show me all the ways I can do the work that I know makes me happy.

Instead, God smiles slightly, mostly with the eyes. “You seem pretty tired. Why don’t you let me hold onto all this stuff for a while?”

Before I know it, I’ve hit the five-mile mark, much faster than I had planned. I close my eyes and take a deep breath as I round the corner.

Your world’s not falling apart, it’s falling into place/ I’m on the throne, stop holding on and just be held.

I would be lying to you if I said the the run was perfect, or that at the end of it I had some beatific smile that meant that everything had blissfully fallen into place. The thing is my faith, my relationship with God is far from a perfect story. I prayed and debated and was frustrated the entire twenty miles. I was, and am, admittedly, still preoccupied with questions I know I cannot always answer.

Still, I am learning that the mistake is not in asking questions; there is no problem being frustrated or upset. The problem is when we believe the lie that we are abandoned through any of that.

If your eyes are on the storm/ You’ll wonder if I love you still/ But if your eyes are on the cross/ You’ll know I always have and I always will.

Concerns about our own abandonment and unworthiness, fears that haunt many of us in our darkest nights, are not only a lie but  one that uses its power to further isolate us from the truth: God never abandons. We are never abandoned. That love, at its most unconditional, exists with complete purity. It is in every moment we breathe and every time we experience love. I once had a priest remind us that the Savior who chose to be with us even after we beat Him, spat on Him, and ultimately murdered Him isn’t likely to be sent away by our questions and doubts.

So, let’s be honest again: it is not simply my own life questions I’ve been grappling with, but my own faith as well. Not of His existence– my certainty of that has stayed true for the past few years in a way that is, honestly, really satisfying– but at His general plan for the world. “Um, hello?!” I called out, wildly waving my hands, “What’s going on here? Why am I feeling like this? What do I do next? Where do I go?!”

And not a tear is wasted/ In time, you’ll understand/ I’m painting beauty with the ashes/ Your life is in My hands.

And as I’ve sat with a knot in my throat and a pit in my stomach, moments of grace and signs of my blessed existence have been waiting there the entire time I’ve battled the darkness. Long, unexpected conversations; people reaching out, just because; important lessons clicking in the most unexpected of places; and the constant care of my loved ones.

All of these moments have reminded me that I do not need to carry the weight of my own heart alone. We are surrounded by God’s love, manifested in those who are willing to love and hold us when we do not know if we can keep going.

When we are so sure our legs will not carry us up the mountain, we are reminded of the moments others have been there to help us move forward. These moments have been there, like buoys as I try and keep my head above water. Even when I am not listening, these little bits of joy whisper, ‘Remember, above all, you are loved.’

So, when you’re on your knees and answers seem so far away
You’re not alone, stop holding on and just be held
Your world is not falling apart, it’s falling into place
I’m on the throne, stop holding on and just be held.

 

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