Running, a way to exercise faith

By Lt. Col. Dan Rice
Chaplain Special Operations Command Europe

A Soldier participates in a physical fitness test at Panzer Kaserne. Photo by Geoffrey Morris, Stuttgart Citizen volunteer.

Up or down? I prefer slight downhills, but I know I need uphill training too.

As a runner, I have learned the hard way, through several “Did Not Finish” races, the importance of training. If I want to get stronger as a runner, I have to have a variety of workouts. I need to run hills. I need to incorporate sprint days. And I also just need days of easy running to let my legs recover but still add mileage to them.

But still I prefer easy downhill running. Not the steep downhill trails that make your legs ache the next day, but rather the slightly downhill paths that allow you to relax and let gravity pull you along.

There is a section of a trail behind Patch Barracks that is like that. It’s a groomed trail that is very even and slightly downhill. As I ran it recently, I was able to relax and dream of races that were only on downhill courses. If only…

It is easy to coast spiritually just like it is to run slightly downhill.

For our spiritual health, we all have preferences on how to “exercise” our faith and on how to get stronger. But if I am honest, at times, I find myself content to just float along, as if on a slightly downhill path.

I enjoy a passage of Scripture every now and then, but I may not take it to heart. I might listen to a worship song and tap my foot along with the beat but not allow the worship to enter my soul. It is easy to coast spiritually just like it is to run slightly downhill.

The Apostle Paul inspires me as he writes using the metaphor of physical training when talking about spiritual disciplines.
He wrote, “So I do not run aimlessly; I do not box as one beating the air. But I discipline my body and keep it under control, lest after preaching to others I myself should be disqualified,” 1 Corinthians 9:26-27 (English Standard Version).

I imagine Paul growing stronger spiritually by pushing himself to spend more time in prayer and by wrestling to reach out to others who were different than himself. I don’t think Paul was content to float down the lazy river of quoting spiritual one-liners in response to difficult situations. Paul was intense in his growth plan and active in his faith.

What about us? How can we grow stronger spiritually? Well for me, I aim to try some “uphill” training for my spiritual legs by leaning into racial reconciliation within the religious community. It is not easy work, but it is necessary for my spiritual strengthening. I have lots to learn. But thankfully, I also have many others by my side who are running in the same direction.