This essay is part of our summer series called “Running for His glory,” focusing on the intersection between running and faith. I met Erin through an online writers community called Hope*writers. Her story talks about how she grew into loving running as a practice of soul care as a busy mama.
By Erin Reibel
I ran track for one year in 8th grade. I was horrible – like came in lasted, hated every practice, went to the bathroom to avoid the drills, horrible.
After that, I avoided running like the plague. I did other things; I played basketball. I swam on the swim team. I rode my bike, so it is not like I wasn’t active. I just never really embraced running.
Picking up running seemed like the least likely option when I was trying to get in shape in my early 30’s after giving birth to my fourth and last child. I wanted to lose those last few pounds of baby weight, and I needed a goal to work toward. I signed up for a 10k, downloaded a coaching app, and recruited a friend to train with me.
I think what initially drew me to running was that it was easy. I could just lace up my shoes and head out the front down. No packing the kids in the car and driving to the gym. No swimsuit. I did not need to find teammates and coordinate another schedule, when I had the time I could just go.
But that still didn’t mean that I liked it. As a matter of fact, I still hated every sweaty, out-of-breath moment of it. It took running consistently for almost one year – that’s right one whole year – before I could identify the real benefits for me. And even then, I could only identify the benefits in the absence of running.
As a busy mom, I have a hard time slowing down. When I sit down to pray, I find myself either creating my grocery lists or falling asleep. Early in my prayer life, I was exposed to the idea of coloring your prayers. It is sort of like doodling while listening to a lecture. By having my hands busy, I was able to focus my mind on my prayers. Running offers me a similar experience, except engaging my whole body.
Moving my legs and getting my heart rate up forces my entire body to work. This leaves less room for my mind to wander. When I run, it takes about a mile for me to get over that inner dialogue that tells me “Everything is sore,” “I want to go back home,” and “Why do I do this to myself?”
Then something inside me switches. My mind turns away from those superficial concerns and dives into what I really need to speak with God about that day. After about a mile of me talking, my mind finally releases all that it can. I fall silent, and I listen for God to speak to me.
And God speaks.
God answers my prayers. God gives me peace. God provides me with direction. When I am stumped with a message or having problems negotiating a tricky personal situation, I find that I can feel God’s presence more tangibly while running.
Oftentimes, I will stop and voice message myself, the turning point in my next message, or send an email because I finally have the right words to say. or note who the Holy Spirit was prompting me to check on once I got back home.
For me, running is no longer just exercise for my body; it is an exercise for my soul.
Here are a few ways I incorporate the practice of prayerful running in my life:
- At least once a week, I go on one 4-6 mile run with the focus of prayer.
- When life is really overwhelming, I increase my running, working in two or three 4-6 mile runs that are focused on prayer (i.e., I am not listening to music or podcasts)
- When I have trouble focusing, I will often say a favorite verse of scripture over and over again, to the pace of my run. This would be a type of contemplative running.
- One of the busiest times of the year is the holiday season from Thanksgiving to New Year’s day. During that time, I go on a running streak (trying) to run at least 1 mile every day. This makes sure that I am taking at least 10 minutes a day to take care of my soul and reconnect with God.
When my life is at its most stressful, when I have more things on my list than I can possibly accomplish, those are the days that I need to run even more.
Psalm 62:5 says, “Oh, I must find rest in God only, because my hope comes from him (CEB version)!” Running fuels my body and provides my soul with the rest in God that it so desperately needs.
With almost two decades of experience, Erin Reibel has led children, youth, and adults to think about church and community engagement differently. She received her Bachelor of Arts from the College of William and Mary in 2001, her Master of Divinity and Master of Christian Education from Union Presbyterian Seminary in 2009 and her Doctor of Ministry from Wesley Theological Seminary in 2018, where she focused on the challenges and opportunities women face in leadership. She is the founder of Hometable Community, a place where people can find instruction, encouragement, and accountability for their spiritual journey. Follow her on Instagram at @reibelreads and Twitter as @erinreibel.