Tuesday, September 18, 2007

Some thoughts about STRIVING

Well - it's been a while (way too long!) since I've posted and if any of you check regularly you might be wondering what's up. Lots has been happening over the past few months and I've had many ideas for postings, but have just been very lazy about taking the time to put my thoughts down on paper. So - as the "fall" is upon us, my hibernation is over and I'll try to get back on track with postings every week or two.

I used to be quite an athlete. Really - I was. In fact, I was very VERY serious about basketball and field hockey through university and even for a short time was a carded athlete on the Canadian National field hockey squad. In 1980 I ran the Ottawa marathon and finished in a respectable time of just under 3 and a half hours. I tell you this so that you'll believe me when I say I was a serious athlete. Of course that was a quarter of a century ago, but who's counting years? Since then - well - let's just say that my focus has shifted to other, more sedentary pursuits. BUT, the point is, I'm on the verge of making a decision to get in shape. So, just to dip my toe in, so to speak, I went for a run yesterday and have been checking out The Running Room online. I'm actually feeling pulled toward this "get in shape" idea - it's a bit like a magnetic field that's gaining strength. I should also tell you that I was talking to someone on the weekend who went from being a non-runner three years ago, to running four half marathons this year. Pretty impressive! And I'm thinking, I COULD DO THAT.

In fact, I'm starting to get really excited about it. I can imagine myself, once again, as a "runner". Now to be honest, my run yesterday was pretty uninspiring. I covered about three miles in a half hour (that's a distressingly slow 10 minute per mile pace for a former marathoner like myself!) but it did feel good to be done. There's a certain sense of accomplishment when you push yourself to do something hard. And I got thinking about that as I carefully put one foot ahead of the other.

I realize that what I've missed - and I've known I was missing it for a long time now - is STRIVING. It takes a lot of commitment and discipline and energy to strive. From the time I was in grade seven until I was twenty-seven years old (coincidentally the age at which I got married!) I was dedicated, committed, disciplined - maybe even obsessive (okay - definitely obsessive!) about sport and fitness and always improving - faster times, longer distances, better stats, more consistent performances. I loved it. Getting married, finishing a PhD, having kids, working - there's been a certain amount of striving in my new life, but it's not quite the same. So, I wonder, do we all have a built in need to strive?

One of the things I did this summer was participate in a Short Term Mission trip to Kenya. This was my second trip to Kenya. It was a great experience and it has given me lots to think about in terms of justice issues. But it occurs to me that in countries like Kenya where so many people are living in absolute poverty, they STRIVE simply to survive. Life is very hard. Could the sense of satisfaction I might get from pushing myself to do a three mile run be akin to the satisfaction a woman has who has worked hard all day to put some food and water before her children - again?

A few years ago, my husband and I drove through the Rocky Mountains from Calgary to Vancouver. It's amazing terrain and we marveled at the engineering feat and the sheer guts and determination required to build a railroad through those mountains. Many lives were lost in the process and we got thinking about how technology has improved work safety in many areas of our country (at least for those in the middle class!). As a result - that is, as life has become less inherently risky - it seems that the need to strive has turned some people's efforts to things like extreme sport. Wikipedia defines extreme sport as follows: "Extreme sport (also called action sport, adventure sport, and adventurous sport) is a media term for certain activities perceived as having a high level of inherent danger or difficulty and often involving speed, height, a high level of physical exertion, and highly specialized gear or spectacular stunts." It seems that people who are drawn into these extreme sports or activities have a high need to test themselves - to STRIVE for new levels of daring and achievement. And they become part of a fraternity of other like-minded souls.

I wonder what percentage of humanity experiences some form of this desire to strive. What if we all have it in some degree - that it's part of our humanity - but that it gets expressed in various ways? But then, as I look around our post-modern, often selfishly materialistic, narcissistic, sometimes slothful (overweight, underactive, self-destructive) North American society, I wonder if this is what happens when we squelch our god-given desire to strive and give in to self indulgence?

I wonder at our ability to accept a lukewarm existence where we avoid anything that is hard. Is this really living? I don't want to trade places with those who have to strive to survive, but I'm thinking that it might be better to strive to survive than not to have to strive at all. And since my normal life is really pretty easy, maybe joining the fraternity of runners who are willing to be disciplined and committed enough to train for half marathons and marathons is actually a portal to a deeper spiritual life. I wonder...

1 comment:

four_kennys said...

Hello Lois & Marilyn,

It is always great to read your site. Thank you so much for sharing your thoughts about "striving". We certainly all struggle with living an abundant life, against the lure of settling into that which is easy.

From a country of barefoot marathan runners, we pray that your renewed discipline will enrich not only your body but your soul!