The world offers you comfort, but you were not made for comfort. You were made for greatness.
- Pope Benedict XVI
When the alarm goes off at half past some-way-too-early hour, I wish I could say the words of Pope Benedict XVI dance through my head and I spring from my warm bed, ecstatic about my morning run. Anyone who has had the fortune (or misfortune) of crossing paths with me in the interim of the alarm sounding and the front door closing, knows that I am not proclaiming the words of a pope. I’m half-asleep, groggy and operating on autopilot. Layers on, shoes tied, hair pulled back, watch strapped, out the door.
Although I am far from the fastest or most dedicated runners I know, I cannot imagine my life without this hobby that continuously calls forth more and more from me.
Early mornings. Declined invitations for late nights (so as to be ready for early mornings). Race fees and recovery tools. A balanced diet (that always leaves ample space for peanut butter and dark chocolate). Track workouts that give me the butterflies the night before. The onset of pain. An internal voice that creeps into my head on a hard run, tempting me to slow my body...telling me to take it easy...saying no one is making you do this to yourself…
But another voice persists, reminding me that, “You were not made for comfort. You were made for greatness.”
Laying a foundation
From well-intentioned family members to strangers on the street, people freely disclose their thoughts about this hobby of mine. Multi-hour runs in snow, sleet and summer heat draw crazed looks from loved ones as they exclaim, “Why marathons? They take up so much time, and just don’t seem very fun. Can’t you be happy with an easy three mile jog?”
Perhaps “fun” and “happy” are not the first words that come to mind when I think of distance running and the monotonous grind of marathon training, but I can tell you that the experience of running through the streets of Boston, my family’s home city, on Marathon Monday was pure joy. Even in the final stretch of the race, when my legs roared in pain, I was invigorated by a sense of purpose in knowing that I was doing exactly what I was meant to be doing in that moment. The joy with which I ran was palpable to passersby and endures in memory today. Yet, I never would have reached that point (or known what my body and mind were capable of) without the small, daily routines that involved sacrifice, patience and the delay of gratification. The early alarms, tough workouts, cross-training and nights forgoing take-out to cook at home were the gritty, unglamorous, behind-the-scenes work that laid the foundation for greatness that day.
Keeping the goal in mind
You do not get to cross the Boston marathon finish line without embracing the uncomfortable and doing what you do not always “feel like” doing. In the same way, we do not get to hear from our Heavenly Father, “Well done, my good and faithful servant” at the end of this earthly life without embracing the uncomfortable and doing what we do not always “feel like” doing. There is gritty, unglamorous, behind-the-scenes work that lays the foundation for the Christian life, like dragging squeamish kids to Mass, dating with intentionality, choosing to walk away from conversations (or even friendships) grounded in gossip and pessimism, finding freedom in the Church’s teaching on contraception or honoring a regular, albeit inconvenient volunteer commitment. When the world offers us comfort and tells us “to take it easy” because “we don’t need to be doing all this,” remember that we were made for greatness.
Be patient, trust the process and know that the ostensibly small, often uncomfortable sacrifices of daily life are the building blocks for the great joy that awaits.