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A Run at Letting Go

Running Shoes 2

This morning I awoke before my alarm. I lay there in a state half way between prayer and dreaming. After about 20 minutes of coming more fully awake I pushed myself out of the bed and into prepping for a morning run.

I’m training for another half marathon. This time I’m asking for help. I’ve never before trained with a group, or even run with others or at the same time. It hasn’t been a refusal so much as an inconvenience. Negotiating time and schedules feels like an extra layer of challenges that complicates rather than supports a habit like running for me.

This spring, however, I want to improve my race time, and more than that, I’ve learned in other areas of my life, support is worth the messiness of scheduling, and accountability is a wonderful motivator (for me). So I paid my money and joined the group. The commitment is pretty minimal really. We run on Saturday mornings for twelve weeks leading up to the race. Each week the run is progressively longer. And we attend one other intensive class during the week. The other five days a week we are on our own. We also get email support, coaching, and accountability. Two weeks in and I like it so far.

This morning I arrived at the park a few minutes early. The temp outside was 28 degrees, so I stayed in the car and pulled out Anne Lamott’s latest Help, Thanks, Wow: The Three Essential Prayers. It is full of Anne’s usual hyperbolic, witty, self-deprecating style. She writes about how we struggle to pray the most basic things in the course of our everyday lives. She gets so many things so vividly right. She makes me laugh in self-recognition. And occasionally she throws a story or quip into the mix that fits me exactly. She also meanders a bit through the book. So it feels very conversational. I didn’t see this morning’s zinger coming. It just fell right off page 63 and landed like the perfect pair of shoes I’d been looking for.

A nun I know once told me she kept begging God to take her character defects away from her. After years of this prayer, God finally got back to her: I’m not going to take anything away from you, you have to give it to Me.

I prayed the ‘Thanks’ and the ‘Wow’ prayers on the spot! I slipped into these ideas as I ran the next 4.5 miles in the cold wind and warming sun. I thought of all the impossibilities in my life . . . things I want desperately to give away. . .

desires that seem impossible to fulfill
hopes that people I love will change to suit me
anger – the kind that makes me spit nails over things like spilled orange juice or socks that don’t match
anxiety about the next book or job or teaching assignment
decisions over which I have no control

I’ve practiced this kind of letting go, giving away, and handing over in focused, meditative prayer for years now. But to let go in a moment, through the day, when the distractions arise? Well, I still try (unsuccessfully) to control my thoughts and feelings, to contain them rather than to let them pass through. They are habit-forming these feelings, thoughts and worries. They have their roots in mistrust. They are lodged deep.

But in this little story from Anne Lamott, I saw a new possibility. I saw myself handing them over. Willingly. I could see myself saying, “Here, I can’t carry this right now. Do you mind taking it so I can do the important thing in front of me?” And by God (yes, actually) I could feel the relief in my body, like I could run faster, unburdened. So as I ran, when any of a dozen desperate thought came flitting unbidden through my mind, I just handed it over.

You know, when I was a youth minister and took kids on trips to Six Flags or a movie night, I hated seeing the chaperones get piled up with the middle-schoolers’ jackets, extra bags, left-over lunches and all the rest. It irrittated me that the parents wouldn’t say, “No, carry it yourself.” But this morning I thought, “Wow, that is exactly what I desperately need God to do for me. Just take whatever I hand over. No complaints. Just take it. Hold it and free me up to do the important thing in front of me.” Because what I’m handing over – the worries, feelings, obsessing thoughts – they are just distractions to take me out of the beauty, fragility, and power of the moment in which I’m living. Jesus showed us how to live in each moment unburdened, yet we keep hanging on to the wrong things.

I’ve been handing these thoughts and feelings over into the sacred silence for so long, but I still feel assailed in the sweep of a day by such desperations and distractions. This morning I experienced the handing over, letting go in a whole new way. Felt it with each step. I tried all day to keep handing them over . . . and letting go.

I said on Ash Wednesday that throughout Lent I’m asking myself honest questions to see where they lead. This morning, Anne’s story posed the questions: Will you stop begging for the parts of your life that are difficult or disturbing to be taken away, and instead give them willingly? Will you trust the same God of sacred silence to receive each longing, rage, desperation and anxiety? Will you let go at each moment?

Help. Thanks. Wow. 

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