It is awe-inspiring how God, the great physician, reaches us precisely at the time and in the way that we most intimately need and understand. Seven years ago, when I first started casually jogging, I would have never imagined that I would now be training for my first 100-mile ultra-marathon this November nor could I have seen the central role the Catholic Faith would have in my life.
I started running to spend time with my girlfriend Liz (now wife) who loves to run and be outdoors. At the time we were living in San Diego close to the beach. Jogging together around the bay and on the boardwalk quickly became one of our favorite ways of spending time together.
We rarely spoke on our runs. Just being in stride together, both of us feeling the warmth of the sun and breathing in the fresh, crisp ocean air, was more than enough to give us a calming sense of gratitude and to help us feel connected beyond words. Those were special times, ones foundational in our relationship. We cherish those memories and remember them with great delight.
Although spending time with Liz encouraged me to get started, it’s not what kept me running or what keeps me at it now. The habit of running emerged and blossomed in my life not because I sought it, but because the Lord used it as a way to draw me closer to Him. In His masterful timing, I came to embrace and enjoy running at the same period I was working through challenges with alcohol, ADHD, and anxiety.
I was diagnosed with ADHD as a teenager and to this day battle with a frenetic, overactive mind at times. I often feel anxious and overwhelmed by tasks with work and family that require concentration and focus. As a means to still my thoughts and cope with my frenetic energy, youthful forays with alcohol had become regular binges by my twenties. With destructive drinking habits and a stressful job, as a young adult I had left no quiet place to hear the still small voice of God calling me back to Him.
Until I started to run.
Even as my jogging with Liz subsided, I kept on running. Gradually, a sporadic jog a few times a week grew into a nearly daily running practice. I began signing up for local road races, such as 5ks, 10ks, and half marathons. I was hooked! I certainly enjoyed the outdoors and the euphoric feeling that came with exercise, but the truth is I kept running because I needed it. I didn’t fully understand it then but through the workings of the Holy Spirit I was being called back again and again to the silence, solitude, and stillness that came with each outing. With each run it was as if I was given an inner grotto to reflect and to pray, a place where I began to make sense of the many poor choices and ensuing wounds and shame that was a result of my alcohol abuse. Although most people prefer to pray in a chapel or quiet room, as someone with ADHD I found it almost impossible to do while ironically putting my body in motion calmed my mind, leading me to prayer. With each passing month, I became less worried, needed to drink less, and needed television, internet, and distraction less. I wasn’t comfortable sitting quietly with Him yet, but I could run to Him and He knew it.
St. Teresa of Calcutta wrote, “God speaks in the silence of the heart. Listening is the beginning of prayer.” Running helped me begin to pray because it helped me listen. It helped me begin to listen to my conscience and to internalize and embrace that, although a broken sinner, I still had worth and was lovable in my Creator’s eyes. Yet, this was only a beginning. It was only an initial step in learning about the Father’s love and coming to accept it deep in my being.
Ultimately, my habit of running grew into a tremendous source of healing and took on a spiritual dimension because it was integrated with a life regularly devoted to the Mass, Scripture, the Sacrament of Confession, and bonds with other truth-seeking Christians. Although raised Catholic, for most of my college years and twenties when my drinking was at its worst the Faith had no active presence in my life. Thankfully, near the time running emerged, I was attending Mass again and had joined a vibrant young adult group at the parish. The burgeoning consistency and discipline of body, mind, and soul through exercise and faith transformed running and took me to new heights within.
St. John Paul II wrote, “You are true athletes when you prepare yourselves not only by training your bodies but also by constantly engaging the spiritual dimensions of your person for a harmonious development of all your talents.” We are body and spirit. We are called to cultivate health and wholeness of the complete person. The Saint further asserted that the body is a treasure, uniquely manifesting and expressing the Creator’s design and truths of our human nature. He wrote, “[the body] reveals…the wonderful structure of the human person created by God as a spiritual being, a unity of body and spirit.”
Gradually I came to understand each jog in the context of my faith, as a gift from God and as a celebration of His grace. Using the time to pray The Holy Rosary, The Divine Mercy Chaplet, or offer the run up for an intention or someone in need not only complemented time spent in the pew, the confessional, or in study, but also cultivated an intimate practice where I could encounter the Lord in the depths of my heart.
From these encounters, along with partaking in the Eucharist and attending Mass, a renewing and life giving friendship with Christ grew. In his letter to the Romans, St. Paul writes, “affliction produces endurance, and endurance, proven character, and proven character, hope.” The long road to healing and the deepening friendship with Christ brought about a new hope, freedom, and wholeness that anchored me in the truth and set me on the path of rebuilding an identity that had been badly damaged and distorted.
As St. John wrote in Revelation, Christ makes all things new. He draws the old into himself and through the cross makes way for the new. At the cross, death dies and new life is born. More than seven years after I started this journey, I am deeply grateful for the new life exercise shared with faith has brought. Staying close to Christ and maintaining my running habit continues to give me victory over the harmful alcoholic binges of earlier days and an inner peace that evaded me for so long. Experiencing Christ’s love has taught me to embrace my authentic self, energizing me with a new sense of purpose.
After almost a decade in financial services and a few years in higher education, I started a new career when I recently launched Libertas. Libertas is a men’s Christian apparel brand and content resource. Through Libertas, I seek to encourage others to use physical activity integrated with prayer and the Sacraments as a path to spiritual healing and growth. My dream is to help lead others to the new life and freedom in Christ that I and so many others have been given: “For freedom Christ set us free.” (Gal. 5:1)
So I continue to run. Not because I am struggling through an addiction or I am seeking healing but because each outing is an opportunity to thank Him greater and love Him deeper. I do not know where He will take me (or how far I can go) but I just run anyways because where I am going matters less than who I am with. If you haven’t already, I encourage you to cultivate a habit (running, hiking, cycling, swimming, weights, etc.) where you can build your inner grotto for God to speak into the depths of your heart.
I look forward to the adventure and I’ll see you on the trail!