“It is good for our hearts to be strengthened by grace “ – from Hebrews 13:9
I have to admit I have been weather-stalking this week. I have a 25k trail race on Saturday and this is the forecast. 90% chance of snow. Typically, this would not concern me. I might even be thrilled at the prospect of running in the woods for several hours during a snowstorm.
Like most trail runners, I find the concept of running in less-than-ideal conditions rather appealing. It makes the story-telling which occurs in the warm afterglow of the run more exciting. Runners standing around the heated fellowship hall have a “Whew! Look what we survived” mentality when we endure adversity. We have come through hardship together and emerged on the other side. A special bond has been formed.
This year is different for me. Wariness pervades my pre-race outlook. I am still battling a persistent hip injury. As my legs grow tired during a long run and my stride undergoes slight changes, the pain increases. Trail runners know that a 25k trail race is very unlikely to be 25k.
My handy Google converter says that 25k is the equivalent of 15.5343 miles. Last year the course measured 16.8 miles. “More run for your money!” is the slogan of the evil race director.
No, the race director is a really a nice guy, but I don’t want more run for my money this year. I worry about finishing.
In the midst of this mental turmoil I came across this quote by Mastin Kipp: “Find gratitude for the struggle. Grace can be found in the hardest and most challenging moments of our lives.” What a concept – find gratitude for the struggle. Thinking about it changed my perspective of the upcoming race.
Last New Year’s Day my middle son, who was home visiting for the holidays, helped me set up this blog. My first post was about gratitude. It is interesting to see how life has a way of changing you. And me.
Many of my thoughts on gratitude are exactly the same as last year, but last year at this time, I thought I was beating the nagging hip injury that had plagued me since the previous summer. My running was improving after a disappointing autumn racing season and I was looking forward to my favorite trail race (the same one I am doing this weekend) with excited anticipation.
This year has seen the injury return with a vengeance. Running is different than it was last year, slower, more painful, less certain, but I have grown to appreciate it more. The experience is richer, more meaningful, more satisfying. My gratitude quotient has increased.
It’s funny how easily we slip into the mindset of taking things for granted. Oh, I was always grateful to be able to run. As I get older, it is easy to see the number of women in my age group at races dwindling. I am fortunate to have the health, the financial resources, and the stubborn nature that keeps me going, but the concept of being grateful for the setbacks, the struggle, the challenging moments never occurred to me.
And yet. And yet, I cannot deny that the setbacks have changed me for the better. They have forced me to grow. Facing a challenge has actually given me a more positive outlook, not only toward running but in many areas in my life. It has made me more compassionate towards those who are struggling and we all struggle with something.
Facing this challenge has made me think about other areas of my life that I may take for granted – my health, my relationships, my faith. Complacency becomes comfortable. Appreciation is easy to forget to give but so welcome to receive.
Dealing with challenges makes you appreciate the hardships of others. Understanding is the first step toward empathy. Compassion often results in extending a helping hand, which builds social networks. Building social networks brings resilience. A cascade of positive results begins with facing adversity. More setbacks mean more opportunities for growth.
Just as in weight training, where you must first break down muscles in order to build them up to be stronger, hardships help build up our emotional muscles to give us a stronger spirit. Maybe that is what Mastin Kipp refers to as grace.
Grace is found in being broken down and built up as a new, stronger, more resilient being. It is found in having an open heart, an accepting spirit. Grace begins with understanding, at least dimly, that we are all in this together. We all face suffering; we have all had our hearts broken. We are stronger when we help each other overcome sorrow.
Yes, I am grateful for the adversity that has brought me to this point in my life. I welcome the difficulties and the increased compassion they bring. I look for the grace that comes with the challenging moments in life.
I must admit, however, that I still do not welcome the thought of snow on Saturday. Maybe there could be grace and growth without snow. No snow is something I would really be grateful for.
I am linking up with Jessica and Amy at Live Life Well, Fairytales and Fitness for Friday 5, Susan B Mead for Dancing With Jesus, Spiritual Sundays for Welcome, Embracing the Unexpected for Grace and Truth, The Blended Blog for Friday Loves, and Counting My Blessings for Faith ‘n Friends.