I’m not a runner. I’ve never been a runner. Over the years people have told me I have the figure of a runner, that of a dancer too. I think it helps that I have a small chest and no hips to speak of. But I was not born with the skill or the stamina of a runner, let alone a dancer. Most mornings I walk a mile and a half along the boulevard in my neighborhood. I can walk anywhere. I am a “walker”.
But this summer I was given a gift —the gift of time. A delayed adoption process has rendered me several more months of unexpected waiting. I decided to do something I didn’t think I could do. Much like my soon-to-be single parenting role, my intention was to push through that which seemed impossible. So I started running. A half-block here, a half-block there. Pretty soon I was up to one full block and three half-blocks, which to my surprise is already a quarter mile by city block standards.
Physically, I can’t say it feels all that enthralling. There’s a fair amount of heavy breathing. And my knees hurt from time to time. I am usually so relieved to hit the end of the block that a “thank God” slips out of my mouth louder than I’d like. And yet, at the same time, I can’t help but notice how quickly my mind empties with each stride. I’m not thinking about the work deadline looming over me. I’m not thinking about the dreaded trip to the grocery store. Or the thank you notes I swore I’d have written last month and definitely before the end of the summer.
I’m too busy telling myself to push past what I think is possible. And in between my breaths, I eye landscaped gardens and some rather gregarious flower pots. I watch a robin hop across the street with a worm dangling from its mouth. My mind is clear. Fresh. It even bypasses the old, circular pathways of what is missing in my life—a house of my own, a vegetable garden, a gas grill. Somehow, in ways I do not at all understand, one of my oldest patterns of thought—the husband for whom I ached— is also losing its grip.
I was just out of college when the last of my three older brothers wed. “Give me ten years,” was my standard reply to all my relatives and family friends who persisted in inquiring about my dating status. I didn’t want to get married. I was committed to finding my passion, to teaching young children to read. I worked long hours and weekends too. I understood that marriage was expected of me in the same way high school and college were. I just didn’t know if that was what I wanted. And I was too afraid to dive in and find out.
A decade or more later, most of my friends were settling down, buying two story houses with giant oak trees in the backyard. Weddings turned into baptisms and second birthday parties. I didn’t know how to change the trajectory of my life so I made a pact with one of my remaining single friends. We promised to do everything possible to meet men. And we did. We built houses with Habitat for Humanity, took classes in history and woodworking, played co-ed softball. We tried speed dating, internet dating, and community-service dating.
And we met men. I even dated a few, as did my friend. I just never found a man with whom I shared a deep sense of connection or with whom I wanted to bring children into the world. I prayed constantly about this, at times arguing with God and other times pleading for deliverance from singlehood. I read books about committed relationships. I went to see a therapist. But most nights I crawled into my bed alone. And I still do. I can’t tell you how many times I’ve tried to let it all go.
But up until I started running this summer, I never imagined God as the ultimate in purging, in clearing out what no longer serves us. The more half-blocks I run, the more spacious my mind feels and the longer that openness stays with me. So many things surprise me now: how peaceful I am about waiting three more months; how content I feel to be home on a summer night; how accepting I’ve become of this path before me, being single and a mom.
I imagine that God is not keeping track of how many blocks I’m running in the same way I am. (I’m up to six and a half and aiming for ten!) Maybe God doesn’t seem to notice, or mind, how hard I’m breathing. Perhaps God is above all that sweat. Or, maybe God is right there with me as my knees pound out another half-block. Either way, God is definitely in the spaciousness, doing the impossible: lifting the burden of unnecessary thoughts and opening my heart to all that is and all that is yet to come.
I’m not sure I want to run a marathon anytime soon, but who is to say what the future holds. At the moment, I’m just grateful for the freedom running six and a half blocks has ushered into my life. And I’m grateful for the invitation, once again, to embrace the richness of my life and to trust that I am—as we all are—more than who we think we are.