In recent months a few friends have asked me to help them get in shape. Mostly through “friendly” encouragement, but sometimes more directly (and firmly) as a coach would. Various requests came in the form of invitations to run together, so we formed the Arch Bridge Running Club (Tuesdays, 5:00 AM running in/between Oregon City and West Linn). 1 A couple of us are training for a triathlon. Mostly we’re just running buddies.
It took 86 days for his verbal desire to become “day one” of action. This month he began the journey through physical fitness. His resolve is now taking the shape of a new habit. (Don’t give up. Habits are usually stronger than desires.)
The key for him? Probably many things, like being disillusioned with getting older and sedentary. The inspiration of others on the journey, and a commitment to eating healthier has helped. Probably, like me, saying “no” is a challenge for him, so that there’s little left for cultivating a whole life.
Yet the key factor was this: beginning a new routine alongside his wife. (Yes!) This meant saying no to the customized fitness plan I had sent him (85 days prior) in order to say yes to a better and more realistic plan. (Principle: It’s good to say no to your friends for the sake of your wife.)
Personally, I default to doing just about anything alone. Which is precisely why I must not do so. Sure, there are times of solitude, and out of six runs in a given week, five usually are alone before the sun comes up (though with Strava you’re never really alone). Tuesday mornings are a reminder that I am both known and needed, and not just because I’m the one who usually sets the week’s running plan.
Being known is about vulnerability, where others can see you as you are: whether fit and fresh or fat and fatigued. In physical terms that means getting up early, when no one else will (especially yesterday’s you), to hit the road or gym hard. It means showing up to give your best, while not looking your best. It means turning on screens in order to get needed sleep. It means running slower on recovery days, since that’s wisdom. It means asking someone significant to check on what you’ve eaten, what you’ve spent, giving personal access to someone to see the behind-the-scenes of your life. The same holds true spiritually, relationally, emotionally. This is the pursuit of wholeness, where we see God’s love at work it us, whether fit or fatigued.
Being needed is about the value you bring to others, and their value to you and one another. We talk about “relational rent” in the Renew Church family, meaning there is mostly not a direct payoff from the investments we make in others. “Rent” seems wasted, and “ownership” seems better, but the time and energy spent on others is worth it. Love is generous, patient, and kind. 2
Community is the place where we grow. A healthy community grows healthy people. Where there is pride, greed and foolishness left unchecked, all kinds of evil and selfishness with grow. Exercising in a group, and the power of it (e.g., Jazzercise) is a great metaphor for all growth: we always go further when others are watching. Better yet, when we’re participating together on the journey. People pursuing their best and sacrificing that for the sake of others’ best is truly beautiful. In community, as in the Gospel, there are far better things ahead than what we leave behind. 3
That’s because self-improvement quickly becomes a dead end, and true leadership means investing in others so they can grow into their best.
Another new friend is generous with his swimming wisdom, and let me do laps and drills with him this month. I went from being the strongest runner on the track to the weakest swimmer in the pool. That’s the good kind of getting uncomfortable; and that’s how we grow. He quickly realized I wasn’t up for the workout planned — nor was he! — so adjustment was needed, with no accompanying apology. This week he sketched out a whole new workout, for our mutual benefit. Good form, new friend.
Sometimes love looks like enabling, sometimes it looks like discipline. Sometimes a hug, sometimes a punch. Both methods are necessary.
Here’s a recent run we did as a group, the Arch Bridge Running Club:
Hand-drawn artwork above created by Handlettering Co. Click each link to see the full artwork for purchase.
- The Arch Bridge Running Club is open to all, though for your enjoyment some basics and baseline fitness are needed: 1) Be able to run continuously for thirty minutes, 2) sustain sub-9:00/mi for three miles, 3) a desire to be challenged. There are no dues, nor t-shirts (yet). ↩
- 1 Cor. 13:1-8 ↩
- C.S. Lewis ↩