On Saturday mornings, I like to take my two eldest daughters for a short run. Typically, the outing transforms into some sort of game or adventure, as it never occurs to them that the magic of moving their bodies should feel like work. They run hard, with reckless abandon.
And so, I breathe and soak up their joy. I breathe and allow my bent view of exercise to be straightened and redeemed by the light of God in these tiny faces.
Almost without fail, at some point, my four-year-old will ask if I will carry her. This comes without warning, as she never slows down, but simply runs her heart out until she can no longer. And when her legs give way, she innocently and joyfully lifts her arms to me. She collapses into the rest of my arms, as if to recharge in my strength, as if to relearn her identity as my daughter, as if to reclaim the security of not being alone.
Then back to a sprint. There is no fear of tiring, because she has the assurance that I will not. Her hope is in my presence.
Though I attempt to explain that finding a steady pace will help my girls to run farther, they prefer their way. After all, their reckless abandon is what makes their youth so beautiful, so free. And for these sweet minutes, my spirit rejoices to join them in their freedom.
But I also know the truth that, perhaps unlike a small child, I need to bring a different wisdom and regulation to my running…knowing that my own legs will need to carry me home. And to some extent the same seems true in life, as we grow up and responsibilities pile…
Something in my spirit wrestles with wanting to run each day with reckless abandon, but knowing that I cannot exhaust myself, that I will need to keep going, that my children could wake in the night, that the alarm clock will buzz in the morning, that the work of the day will be repeated, that I will need rejuvenation to be a gracious mama. Truths about how God never tires, and can renew our strength beat against truths that Jesus himself drew away to be alone with the Father, and that God grants rest to those He loves. I find myself unsure about whether I should be forcing more rest into my days, or pushing harder to collapse at the end of every day, having given it all.
“He tends his flock like a shepherd: He gathers the lambs in his arms and carries them close to his heart; he gently leads those that have young.” – Isaiah 40:11
When I first read this verse, I saw myself in the lamb, and the thought of being carried close to the heart of God was salve to my soul. Since becoming a mama, this verse has changed for me, and I have been washed in the pleasantness of God’s gentle heart towards mamas.
But today, an interesting distinction jumps from the page and impresses on my heart. Those who have young, the mamas, are no longer carried, but led… The Shepherd leads, and we follow with our little lambs in our care.
And so, I wonder if wisdom would lead us to a change the way we run our race in such a season.
One thing I know we mamas have in common is that we are so unavoidably tired. The constant demands on a parent are unrelenting. And yet, the more I examine my days, the more I see how very many opportunities there are for me to choose the pace I’m running. I choose whether or not to mop the floor, to answer the phone, to say “yes” to host the thing, or join the committee. I choose whether to scramble or to let the toys remain in disarray when leaving the house in the morning. I choose to make the sauce from scratch, or find a jar with decent ingredients. I choose to promise homemade cupcakes for the preschool class. I choose to set the pace on responding to texts and emails. The work is never done, and so each time I stop to read a book with my child, or build the Legos, or sit still while a couple children nap, is simply a choice. Though there is much out of my control, I am responsible for the pace I run.
There is much to make us tired, but I believe we find hope, and the strength to keep taking the next step when we choose to keep pace with the Shepherd – to be led in his grace and wisdom. Perhaps the goal is no longer to live in a carefree sprint until we wear out and need to be carried. Perhaps the goal is simply to keep pace with the Shepherd. We look for where He’s moving, and allow ourselves to be interrupted. And our confidence, our hope, as we run, must be in His infinite wisdom and absolute goodness.
If God leads at a pace that feels too fast, we must hope in his provision of strength in the midst, and of rest in the miles ahead. If He leads us at a pace that feels too slow, we must trust that the slow miles are a gift to recover and prepare for the hills ahead that we cannot see.
In these days with tiny ones, I am keenly aware of the Biblical charge to run our race to win (1 Cor 9:24). I often wonder if that’s what I’m doing when I feel completely emptied out at the end of the day, as if life is made up of a few tens of thousands of sprints. But it doesn’t feel so.
My children can sprint in reckless abandon, if they choose. And they go straight from running, spinning, wrestling craziness to snoring in about 8 seconds. By grace, their bodies and souls recover quickly, and by grace, they have their parents to help when their joyful unrestraint leaves them exhausted.
But for me, running a day at sprinting pace sometimes feels in vain. It feels like I have something to prove. It feels like I get ahead of the Shepherd and look around and wonder where He is. I am beginning to find freedom in running my days more like a small part of a long, long race.
I sometimes flip-flop between sprinting and feeling like I deserve to be carried. I feel a pressure that if wear out, than everything will crumble. So I react with a creeping sense of entitlement that says…. I deserve a break, deserve another coffee, deserve a night out, deserve a Netflix binge, deserve for my children to leave me alone while I finish my quiet time.
Hope is not found in grasping for these things to numb us or treat us or make up for a lack. Hope is not found in running every day at a sprint pace. I believe hope is found in keeping pace with the Shepherd. I try to create quiet moments to listen to His voice. I make space for gratitude in the real life moments. I look for the things that make my spirit come alive, even if they are not on my To Do list. I look for opportunities to connect with my children, and sometimes choose to walk away from unfinished work. I try to give myself permission to take two hours to fold the laundry with my preschoolers, instead of trying to get them to leave me alone so I can do it in twenty minutes.
And I try to remember to choose rest…
Not as a reaction to exhaustion because I sprinted too hard, but as an intentional part of keeping pace with the Shepherd. I can take the “flat road” to grab a quick nap, a babysitter, 10 extra minutes before my children rise in the morning – as a crucial part of the race. Settling my pace to recover and prepare for the hills ahead is not giving up or failing; it’s a part of the plan.
In physical races that I have run, I have often regretted not collapsing across the finish line, having given it all. I’ve never had the faith in my body and strength to persevere at top speed. I have always been afraid of burning out before the finish line. So I reserve and reserve and reserve.
Those who win…they leave everything on the course. That is how I want to finish my life on earth.
But in the race of our lives, running hard after God, we ought not to collapse across the finish line at the end of each day. We can trust our “pacer,” our Shepherd, to lead us through hard miles, and easy ones, fast minutes, hours, days, years…and slow ones.
As we keep pace with God, our Shepherd, we can trust that he will lead us well, given all our human and earthly limitations. And as we keep pace with Him, he will lead us to collapse across the finish line at the end of our earthly lives, to be greeted with “Well done, my good and faithful servant.”
Rest was God’s idea, as were our fleshy bodies and the cycle of night and day. It was God’s idea that we could not maintain a sprinting pace for all of our days. It was God’s idea that we would have to keep our eyes fixed on Him to know our pace, despite days when fog settles in around us and clouds our vision. It was God’s idea that we would be drawn into deep intimacy with him, and dependence on him, in days with young children.
To run my best race, I must let the wind carry me when it is at my back. I must let a slight downhill in the course – the easier days – gently elevate my pace. The significant declines, when things feel swift and easy, I might be inclined towards self-sufficiency. But these require caution, remembering my frailty and my need for God’s leadership. And when I reach a hill to climb – the hard times – I must tune in, fix my gaze, shorten and quicken my steps, and run with exceptional hope that I will come up and over in the strength of my God.
We mamas must resist the pressure to sprint.
Perhaps when I was young, I could stay up all night, or book my schedule every night, or say “yes” to all the things. When I overdid it, I would be scooped up, carried close to God’s chest (i.e. and sleep until noon on a Saturday). But now, I must keep pace, on my own feet, as God gently leads me with my little flock.
When He quickens his pace, we can as well, in faith. Our Shepherd knows our needs, our strength and limitations. We need not fear that we will become exhausted. Our God can breathe new breath into our lungs, and soften our pounding hearts. He can lift us up to our feet when we fall, and his touch infuses us with new strength. But we are not carried as we once were…we are gently led.
We run hard in response to the love of the One who gave it all for us. But sometimes the seasons shift and, when winter comes, we are running our race with some bruises and stress fractures. Children are a tremendous blessing, and a constant source of laughter and profound joy. But sometimes days with little ones can grow dark and wintry. While we once ran with the winds at our back, making us feel like our feet had wings, we now must tuck our chin and run straight into the wind, face stung by the blustery air.
And in this state, the goal is not record-breaking pace. The goal is to Just. Keep. Going. When we are weary, we just keep making the choice to take the next step…and the next…and the next. We squint to look through the wind and fog to our Shepherd, always just ahead.
If we find we have run ahead of our Shepherd, we must slow our pace and fall behind His leadership. If we find we can’t make our feet to move, we must invite His healing touch to restore us.
Joy comes in staying the course. Joy comes in running in step with the Shepherd. And when we run in step with the Shepherd, we can know confidently that we are set to win.
Biblical references: Isaiah 40: 28-31, Luke 5: 16, Psalm 127: 2, 1 Corinthians 9: 24