Listen To Article
By Katy Sundararajan
In high school, I ran track for two years. I’m still exceptionally proud of myself for the runner I became. My times did improve, and I made a whole slew of interesting friends during that season. However, when I found my real joy and passion in choir, theater, and the artsier realms of life, I left running behind with grateful relief. As my body aged, I further realized that running was a disagreeable task for my back, and also my knees. I don’t feel nostalgic or wistful about my running days. I can be physically fit in other ways, and I can find joy in many other activities.
Despite all of this, I recently found myself running.
My husband and I had the rich pleasure of leading a group of Western Theological Seminary students on their Intercultural Immersion Trip to India earlier in May. The trip was a 10-day whirling dervish-type experience of south India and its varied faiths, its unique people groups, its fantastic flavors, and its vibrant living. It did not disappoint.
On day 11, with full hearts and tired bodies, we pointed ourselves toward home. Our first big flight over and done, we had gathered at our gate in Amsterdam for the second long flight, and we were laughing at Daniel’s latest comedic moment. (Do you know where this is going?) Amidst our happy chuckles and teasing, an announcement came over the intercom.
Unfortunately, there were some mechanical issues and this plane would not be taking us across the ocean today. We were told that everyone would have to re-book at the nearest transfer gate. Before the announcement was complete, the whole of the crowd was on their feet, moving fast toward the gates. We were so anxious to get there that the great majority of us took off in the wrong direction, realized it together, and shifted the other way like a collective, frenzied school of minnows.
The transfer line was a long, two hour wait. As each member of our group got re-booked they took off toward their new gate with barely a goodbye. So much for hugs and meaningful farewells. There were planes to catch.
Somehow, the four of us travelling to Grand Rapids were the last ones re-booked. My husband who held the primary re-booking ticket for our foursome texted us, “The lady said RUN.” We looked at each other with round eyes, and ran.
There I was, running through the Amsterdam airport, roller bag clacking behind and my new Indian scarf flapping in the breeze. It was nothing like the track team. I wasn’t wearing the little track shorts or the awesome running shoes. There wasn’t a gunshot start, or someone actually clocking my time.
But, it did feel familiar. My heart was pumping; my lungs were gasping. (Was that a stitch in my side?!) And yet, for me, the most recognizable thing was the longing. There underneath the ruckus of the blood pounding in my ears and the clacking of the suitcase, was a deep longing for the finish line.
For those of us non-runners, there are very few times and places that we would realistically be found running for any serious reason. I never run in the grocery store, for example. I do not find myself running in church, or at work. I can see myself casually running around in the backyard with my children, and I would run the bases to score in a kickball or softball game. I would most definitely run from monsters. But, more or less, I never run unless someone, often someone in an airport, says “RUN.” And then, in that case, I can really book it.
Clearly, this all has me considering when and why I run. What could be the real motivating factor for a non-runner like me? I run if someone tells me to, obviously, but I also run because I want to get to the finish line, and usually, I want to get to the finish line because there is a meaningful reward. People run in airports because they want to make it to their plane before it leaves and they don’t make it to their destination. In my case, I ran because I wanted to get home.
I can’t say I’ve cared much for scripture verses that mention races. Races have always stressed me out because I’m not competitive, another awesome reason for quitting the track team. But now I’m thinking of this verse, “Let us run with perseverance the race marked out for us, fixing our eyes on Jesus, the pioneer and perfecter of faith. For the joy set before him he endured the cross, scorning its shame, and sat down at the right hand of the throne of God. Consider him who endured such opposition from sinners, so that you will not grow weary and lose heart.” (Hebrews 12:1-3)
At the end of a school year (for both me and my children,) I want to collapse. I want to sit in the shade and drink some lemonade. At most, I want to occasionally, maybe, run the bases for kickball. Instead, I see the summer stretching into the usual complexities of my real life, full of work challenges, life changes, plans big and small, and undoubtedly a few snafus along the way. I will be asked to run. In fact, I expect I will be told to run.
I will run this summer. I will lean into the fact that we’re called to persevere in the race, not win. I can try to keep the pace, keep my chin up, swing my arms correctly, lengthen my stride. I can look for beloved faces in the cloud of witnesses, hopefully surrounding me in the race and also there cheering on the side. Yes, I will run.