The cool air woke me up as I shut my front door behind me and rubbed my hands together, breathing onto my fingers to keep them from freezing. No matter, I thought as the storm door slammed, it won’t be long before they are warm again.
I jogged to the end of my walkway where it met the black tar road, turned right, and began to run.
I have done this a time or two a week for years, ever since I stopped playing sports, but truthfully, running and I have had a love/hate relationship ever since we met. There are days when I can’t wait, when I wake up and feel good, when I want to lace up some shoes and listen to a new playlist as my feet pound the earth.
And there are the other days. The ones that feel like I am dragging my body along, commanding it to do something that in the moment, it really, really doesn’t want to be doing.
Because I am a woman living in America, this love/hate relationship is one that I share not only with my running routine, but with my body as well- when I think of how well it functions, I am so grateful. When my eye wanders and I start to wonder why I’m not thinner, stronger, and more athletic, I become bitter.
As I ran on this day, I noticed the twinge, small at first. After maybe five minutes, my knee was beginning to whine, something that happened now and then. “Shhh,” was my usual response, and I would inhale and exhale through it, hoping it would go away, but today was different. Today was the beginning of a new kind of knee, one that refused to be ignored.
My exercise routine (aka my knees) demanded a shake-up at the mere age of 26, when one day, my legs decided they did not want to run the amount that they had in the past. They did not want to deal with the pounding of the pavement, the twists and turns, and instead, my body asked for something gentler.
Biking. Swimming. Or my greatest fear in exercise: Walking. These movements I have veered from in the past are now becoming the basic building blocks of my routine.
And it tore me apart, but as I said, not because I loved running. I was so used to forcing my body to do an activity that it didn’t love, it panicked me to realize I was pushing myself into a place that wasn’t healthy anymore.
If my knees were bad at twenty-six, I probably needed to stop running (or at least run a lot less) to save myself from a surgical replacement at thirty-five. That much seemed obvious. But submitting, acknowledging that my body didn’t need to be pushed and prodded, but instead treated more gently, was a mountain for me.
Many days for years, without realizing it, I have accidentally woken up and made an agreement: in order to be (beautiful, enough, healthy, fit, sexy, thin- fill in the blank) I have to work out, hard. If I don’t, I’m not (fill in whatever word was chosen for the day). The agreement was sly, and while it is good to exercise, it’s not good to hold anything so tightly that my entire self-image depends on it.
I am discovering the grace that abounds from beginning my day from a place of love and compassion for my own body, instead of constantly urging it onward as before. I am learning how to exercise in a way that feels more like giving my body a hug than running it into the ground, taking a sharp turn from telling it that if we don’t go faster, work harder, we are going to lose the race.
It turns out that every morning, I have a choice. I can wake up and shake hands with the statement, push and shame myself into exercise and call it being “healthy,” ending up emotionally exhausted by 2pm.
Or, I can wake up and hit my knees in prayer. I can ask the Lord to meet me here, to change my heart to align with his, to see my body the way He does.
Lately, I’ve been amazed that when I wake up in a “bad” day, sure that my body is so far from perfect, and then I commit to sitting with the Lord to allow him to change my mind, he actually can.
This is my medicine, and it is time-consuming and deliberate: Sitting intimately with him on those days, taking a time-out in the morning and deciding I’m not going to go through my whole day looking in a mirror with judgement, but with Godly compassion. Acknowledging that every morning, every minute of the day, the option is mine- to judge myself with a lack of patience, or love my body and thank God for it.