Holding the Tension, Part 1: Pressing IN

More and more these days, I am coming to see the multitude of relationships between running and the Spiritual life.  Most recently, I came across this little blurb in Runner’s World:

Plan for (a Little) Pain:  Running your PR is going to hurt–sometimes a little, sometimes a lot. If you expect and prepare for discomfort, “then you can reframe how you think of pain,” says Cindra Kamphoff, Ph.D., who’s studied the mental strategies of both recreational and elite marathoners. This kind of preparedness also teaches you what you’re capable of tolerating. “Pain you expect is easier to cope with, especially if you’re confident you can handle it,” says Dominic Micklewright, Ph.D. Studies show that recreational runners tend to listen to music or daydream to distract their minds from their pain, whereas top runners zone in on it. “Many elites tell me they push harder to overcome discomfort,” says Kamphoff. “So they’re stepping it up a notch, and say they soon feel better.”

I was most struck by the part I have highlighted in red.  Novice runners try to distract themselves from the pain.  But elite runners actually press into the pain.  Pressing into it actually helps them alleviate it!  I’ve been practicing that when I run and sure enough, it works.

I’m coming to realize that the same thing holds true for anxiety in my life.  When anxiety creeps up in my life (because God is calling me to have a hard conversation, because God is calling me to make a “risky” decision, because I disagree with others about the direction we should take, because my sin has caused hurt in someone else’s life, etc, etc), my first tendency is always to elude the pain of the anxiety.  I want to run and hide, or at the very least, distract myself (with food, movies, internet, other tasks) and pretend the pain does not exist.  I’m thinking, “If I ignore it long enough, this problem will go away.”

That’s my first tendency.  But I’m learning to fight that tendency.  I’m learning to recognize the tension as a necessary ingredient to progress.  I’m learning to press into the pain of the anxiety by fully recognizing it, acknowledging it out-loud with the right person (a coach/mentor), asking God for courage and insight, discerning what I believe is right and why the situation is making me anxious … and then, without all that learning in hand and all that internal work accomplished, I am addressing the issue instead of hiding or pretending.  Here’s the inner dialogue

I recognize you. I see you. And I will not let you dominate me in this moment.  If you are sterling me up or wanting me to lash out, I choose not to do those things. I choose to take a deep breath, and act in the completely opposite way. I choose to love and connect instead of lashing out and hurting. If instead you want me to run, to run from this moment and all the anxiety of produces, I choose Otherwise. I choose to stay in this moment. I choose to stay connected. I choose to take a deep breath and express myself fully. With this much love as possible. I choose to take a stand in the face of no agreement. more than anything I will not let you rule me. I choose to stay connected and loving.

Sometimes I hate facing that pain, especially when it involves a place where I made a mess, but I have to press into that pain.  It’s how life works.  It’s how relationships are rebuilt.  It’s how God’s vision is accomplished.  It’s how we get from where we are to where we want to be.

As a neophyte on the journey toward emotional and spiritual maturity, I sought to avoid the pain, the tension.  But by God’s grace, I’m learning to press in, to hold the tension.


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