“Margaret, I didn’t know you were a runner.”
“Oh, I’m not, not really”
I said this the day after running my 19th half-marathon, and immediately sensed how ridiculous I sounded.
“I mean, I’m not really an athlete. It’s more stubbornness than grace.”
I started running seriously when I was just out of college. I saw my friends running road races and was so envious of their fun that I decided to give it a shot, running my first half marathon in biting wind on St. Patrick’s Day weekend years ago. I was slow, I was clumsy. I never got good, I embarrassed myself. I wasn’t a runner.
Putting matter over mind, I kept trudging, year after year, race after race. My self-image lost some of its late-adolescent rigidity and I imagined myself a runner, albeit one who was terminally awkward. About a year ago when I developed injury upon injury, that nasty voice crept back in: you impersonated an athlete for these years and you can’t outrun reality any more. Stop pretending you can do this.
This race a few days ago was tough. But I was stubborn. I trained and I finished. When I got past the finish line I felt worse than I ever had. I skipped my normal routine of wandering Bushnell Park on that sunny day and went home right away because I feared I would throw up. I even had to cut short small talk with a family friend because I had to get off my feet. Graceless.
Who am I kidding though? I know it’s all grace: a morning with my mother, a sunny park, my tired feet, my obstinate will. Perhaps my own gracelessness makes me more aware of the graciousness of God, and all those relentless waves of blessing and transformation.
Grace perfects nature. God surely uses my stubbornness as a tool for my slow refining: I ask persistently for the spiritual gifts I lack the most, I live out my special flavor of “loud Catholicism” despite being in a field that rarely rewards personalities as big as mine, I hang on to those few moments of consolation that confirm my vocation. I strive for goodness even when it seems very distant. My selfishness and insecurity say “don’t let grace work”, and my stubborn soul says “nah”.
I’ve often wondered what my life would be like if this all were easier. Maybe then I wouldn’t know so deeply my need, or my blessings.