I have a friend who ran her first marathon today. While she didn’t do anything like qualify for Boston, she made a respectable show, completed, and ran hard. On the other hand, I have recently talked with someone who, because of peer pressure and the fear of losing face, simply goes through the motions of living the religion that she was born into. I’ve walked in both worlds — training to be a better runner (although I doubt I will ever run a marathon) and struggling against the opinion of others to live the religion that I have chosen.
i am struck by many similarities between the two.
The irony about my running friend is that I had started running when I met her, and she swore that she would never run because it had not appeal to her. She preferred bikes and weights. Then, she got a challenge from someone she cared about. The next thing I knew, she was training for a half-marathon. The marathon was the next step. The point is, she never would have seriously tried running if she hadn’t been encouraged by someone she cared about and who cared about her.
So it is in spiritual matters. We can’t just be content to pray over the people we love. We have to be willing to speak up, and encourage them to try the gospel as we are led by the Spirit.
Even with a challenge, I doubt that my friend would have been successful on her own. Fortunately, she knew some people who had been running for a long time, and they were willing to work with her and help her train. They taught her how to run. You see, there’s more to running than putting on a pair of shoes and getting outside and moving fast. There are types of training that will help you strengthen your body to run, you have to refine your gait and stride, and you have to know when to pull back so that you don’t injure yourself (I have plenty of personal experience in this last area!). Making the lifestyle change and keeping it up when the going gets tough often takes more than one person can do on their own.
Again, getting serious about getting to know God and our Savior, Jesus Christ, takes time and effort. It’s not something that just comes naturally. Having a friend or two that you can turn to with questions and who will keep you going when the going gets tough makes a world of difference.
I think that, sooner or later, every runner suffers some injury. Injuries are frustrating — especially if you are like me and you injure yourself by doing something less than intelligent or make it all worse because you refuse to admit how injured you really are. Some people give up running after an injury or two. They move on to something else. Again, it helps to know that injuries happen, and it helps to know (or have someone help you learn) how to gauge the seriousness of the injury and how to help it heal.
In the LDS faith, we have bishops who watch over each congregation of Saints. For small spiritual injuries, you can take care of things on your own. You follow that path of repentance that is so regularly taught in our churches. For big spiritual injuries (major sins), we are required to meet with the bishop. My experience has been that I have never met with condemnation in a bishop’s office — even when he had to ask me to refrain from certain worship activities. The bishop is an “accountability partner.” A friend who wants to walk beside you as you recover and gain strength.
Some people eventually find running too tough, too time-consuming, too boring, or too something to continue. They quit, and over time lose the fitness levels that they gained. Often, they become less fit when they started. People who are off a long time because of injuries or who have their workouts interrupted a lot also lose fitness ground. They have to back up a step and regain what they lost before they move forward. Those who are less committed will stagnate unless they find the motivation to kick their training up.
The same thing happens with people who go to church. Some check out spiritually (even if they still fill the pews) because God is too restrictive, people think being religious and/or living what you believe is too weird, or a host of other reasons. Even if they still go through the motions, they have essentially quit. They lose the spiritual ground they gained, and often end up in worse spiritual shape than when they started.
Likewise, people who are spiritually injured must first go through the proper healing process and then begin at the spiritual level at which they find themselves and work to build back to their former levels.
The not-so-committed disciple can find all sorts of things to interrupt their spiritual training. Life is full of things that look like good reasons to skip scripture study, prayers, or everyday service. If they don’t recognize what is going on, they will stagnate at the spiritual level they are at and never progress. The only way to make progress and stick with it is to make a hard, fast, real commitment.
Staying with It
My friend has stayed with running because she has learned to enjoy the training process and because she has seen the results and likes them. My motivations are basically the same. Some people track their progress through a series of races, others just train and run. Either way, they focus on the positive and use it to overcome the hard times. Anyone who ridicules, hinders, or tries to dissuade me from running is someone whose opinion I tend to ignore, because I recognize they haven’t had the same workout experiences that I have.
So it is with spiritual matters. Personally, I have seen intense, incredible growth in who I am over my 25 years as a dedicated Latter-day Saint. I am still FAR from perfect, and I still wonder how much strength I really have when I compare myself with my scriptural heroes. Even so, I have tasted the benefits of living a life that brings me closer and closer to my Savior. I have done so even when I have been ridiculed, hindered, and dissuaded from following, living, and practicing my faith. Even though a large portion of the people that I know and love don’t understand and think my religious commitment is odd and weird, I don’t put too much stock in their opinion of my religion, because I know they haven’t tasted and experienced what I have.
Hopefully, as I live my life and my faith, I will have opportunities to speak up and invite them to try the goodness that I have found.
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