By Alisha Ruple
I recently ran a half marathon. I trained for almost 15 weeks. I had to intentionally prepare every night before bed for what the next morning would hold. I increased mileage, increased speed, practiced yoga, did Pilates, anticipated race day. Then it was here and gone. The race was run. I was tired. And sore. And weary of getting up at or before 5:00 every day of every week. I had earned a rest, right? A green-light for sleeping later and staying off my legs as much as possible? It sounds good, but not all that glitters is gold. You see, this wasn’t my first rodeo (or race, I should say). I made the mistake of ceasing motion altogether after the first few half-marathons. I hobbled for days, groaned whenever I sat, avoided stairs like the plague. I had read that a person was supposed to rest after a long race, to take it easy for as many days as there were miles in the race. That’s what I was doing, and it was miserable. A couple of races ago, I read some new information. Really helpful information. I had my concept of “rest” all wrong. It wasn’t supposed to be a cessation of all activity. This was not the time to heave a sigh of relief and sit on my rear. Those rest days after a race were supposed to be “active rest” days. Active rest? That doesn’t even make sense. Gentle motion and lots of stretching- more moving, less sitting. My post-race weeks were revolutionized. I felt great! I was able to walk normally the next day. Who knew running so far could feel so good?
Just like I was slow to learn this lesson with real running, I’ve been slow to learn it with spiritual races. A tough semester, a family crisis, a major move, a broken friendship, a financial disaster, a long-lasting illness, this list could go on and on. Call them seasons, trials, storms, races…we all go through them. And they are exhausting. We train, we’re disciplined, we lean hard on God and on each other. We pray and read more scripture than normal and anxiously await the day that it’s “over.” And then that day arrives. And we heave a huge sigh and think, “It’s finally time to rest.” And we rest. It doesn’t seem quite so necessary to set the alarm early for Bible study. Hours go by without uttering a prayer. Conversations slip back into meaningless chatter. At least, that’s how it’s gone for me. It’s time for a rest, right God?! Give a girl a break already! I’m tired – that was a hard race with lots of hills, heat, sun, ugh! God promised rest, didn’t He? Yeah, He did, in lots of places. Truly wonderful, nothing-like-it, rest. But what if we have it wrong? What if He didn’t mean for us to prop our feet up on the couch and completely take it easy once the race is run? What if He had “active rest” in mind for us? Gentle motion and lots of stretching.
I’m reminded of two bible stories. The first is from Exodus 16. The Israelites have been out in the desert with no food. It’s been rough. They’ve been running a race like none other. God sends manna. Each family had just what they needed. Fantastic! Race done. Moses warned them to only gather enough for one day. Some of them didn’t listen – they tried to keep some overnight. Maybe it was a lack of faith. Maybe it was laziness. Maybe straight up rebellion. Whatever the reason, here’s what happened the next morning: “It was full of maggots and had a terrible smell.” (Exodus 16:19) God provided exactly what the Israelites needed. He saw them to the end of race, and some of them wanted to just kick their feet up the next day. Been there, done that, got what I needed, I’m good. But that manna didn’t last. And it’s the same for us. When we get through a race, when God has provided all we need in that exact moment, we can’t expect it to last until the next day. God knows we’re tired. He knows how sore and weak we are. But we’ve got to go back out there day after day, gathering what He provides, which is just what we need for that day.
When Jesus was teaching his disciples to pray, He included this line: “Give us today our daily bread.” (Matthew 6:11) Not our weekly bread or our monthly bread. Not even a stockpile of bread after a particularly tough time. Our daily bread. God will always provide what we need. In the midst of a terribly hard race or in the days following its culmination. But we can’t sit back on our rears and expect the manna of today to keep sustaining us tomorrow and the next day and the next week and on and on until the next big race comes our way. We have to abide in Him every day, to go out and gather every day. He promises rest for our souls: “Come to me, all you who are weary and burdened, and I will give you rest. Take my yoke upon you and learn from me, for I am gentle and humble in heart, and you will find rest for your souls. For my yoke is easy and my burden is light.” (Matthew 11:28-30) Even on our rest days, there’s still a yoke to pick up and carry. But God is eternally sweet to us. He knows when we need gentle motion, an easy and light work-out. Don’t let the post-race weariness kill the momentum you have that’s been carrying you closer to God. Trust Him in your time of rest, keep gently moving along with Him. He’ll keep providing exactly what you need.