I love Mardi Gras. My friend Meghann hosted a Mardi Gras party last weekend and it was fantastic – we all wore masks and beads, and ate gumbo, jambalaya, and delicious bread from the bakery where Meghann works. We had King Cake, complete with a King Cake baby [the little guy eluded me yet again, the stinker!]. We all did some overdue catching-up on each other’s lives, and I think we did the Carnival season proud.
Now, of course, the free-wheeling festivities have ended. Lent is upon us. Traditionally, these 40 days serve as a moral grounding: Fat Tuesday / Carnival = indulgence. Lent = sacrifice. I don’t think your religion or lack thereof matters much; this time of year, that message is hard to escape.
Some folks give something up for Lent. Others choose to start a good habit. Either way, the season becomes a test of faith. Is our faith strong enough to keep us away from chocolate? Is it strong enough to maintain that exercise regimen we began on Ash Wednesday? Exactly what kind of faith are we even talking about here? If, as the priest at my church says, God is in us, does this mean that it’s our faith in ourselves that gets tested?
Jumping to a favorite topic, how often does testing and questioning this occur in running?
It happens in our very first days as runners: Did I buy the right shoes? Can I run two whole miles? I don’t think I can make it up that hill. If I run a 5k, will I finish last?
It continues as we gain experience: Can I pass that runner ahead of me? Should I run through this minor injury, or rest? There’s no way I’ll set a PR today. 26.2 miles is *&#@ing far…can I do that?
There’s something poetic about training for a race during Lent. Anyone out there who’s training right now knows that yes, there is sacrifice: we sacrifice sleeping in; we sacrifice social time with friends; we sacrifice time with family. And yes, our faith gets tested: by work, when we don’t want to run after a long day; by nature, when it’s cold/dark/ raining/windy; by our own bodies, when we’re exhausted or inexplicably lead-legged…or when nature calls without any bathrooms or accommodating shrubbery for miles. Now THAT is a test of faith.
During a recent decidedly un-poetic run, this idea peeked through the sludge: Every time we test our faith, we strengthen it.
Think back to how you felt after you ran those first two miles. After you ran up that first big hill. After your first experience of passing someone in a race. After you finished your first marathon. Your first thought was likely “Holy CRAP!” or something similar. But maybe, just maybe, your next thought (after some recovery) was, “You know…that wasn’t so terrible. I can totally do that again. I want to do that again.” The next time you face those circumstances, there won’t be any question marks whatsoever.
Instead of seeing Lent as a time of somber restraint, why can’t we see it as an opportunity? A time to test and strengthen our faith in ourselves not just as runners, but in all of our roles and relationships? I’m sure as heck going to try. It’s a lot more fun than giving up chocolate.