I often find myself living life the same way I ran seventh-grade cross country.
Simply put: not well.
I remember watching the older runners prior to a race. They were stretching and jogging around, warming up for the few miles they would be running around random golf courses. I understood the stretching part, but I never quite got the jogging part. For me, finishing the race meant I should store up as much energy as possible. Sometimes, I was dragging myself across the finish line or walking small sections where there were no cheering fans. Why would I foolishly waste energy just moments before the race?
A few years ago, I was running pretty consistently and I completed a five-mile race. It was as I was finishing the race that I finally understood what those high school students had been doing years ago. Crossing the finish line, I felt really good. In fact, my third and fourth miles felt way better than the first two. My time wasn’t incredible, but I was satisfied with it for myself. I had logged enough miles that I was at the point where I grasped the concept of running so as to warm up. I wasn’t wasting energy–it was instead needed so I could run better. In my conservative, store-up-everything mindset, it was revolutionary to understand that giving some allowed me to give more.
Weekends during the school year and portions of the summer find me falling into that same trap of storing up instead of spending. I’m an introvert and I have yet to find the perfect life balance when my job is one that requires so much extrovertedness. In the evenings, I don’t want to be surrounded by people. On the weekends, I’d rather curl up in my home. During the summer months, I convince myself that relaxing, watching movies, and being a recluse are exactly what I need in order to survive the school year.
But I don’t think that is actually true.
I mean, I want it to be true because that would be an extremely convenient excuse. But it isn’t reality. When I turn in on myself and don’t enter into community, it doesn’t really make me want to be communal later. Instead, I find a dozen more reasons to not go out, to not share myself. Reasons that essentially boil down to being lazy and selfish.
I’ve had experiences where going against what I want in the moment brings greater genuine happiness and joy later. It means forgoing something desirable now to attain someone needed later. Yet it requires one to operate with the grace that is offered and to go against one’s natural inclinations.
For as long as I can remember, my inclination has been to save and hold onto things. I was the third grader who always had $20 to loan to my high school sister. At Halloween, I ate my candy from least to most favorite, storing up the best for last. Yet it also meant that I was less generous with my things–I wasn’t the first to share anything and I often kept a running tally in my head if I felt a debt was owed.
The trouble is our life is meant to be spent, to be poured out, like the woman poured her precious oil on the feet of Jesus: without concern for the cost and knowing that the lavish response wasn’t a waste. It is much easier for me to save, to store up. While there is a goodness in knowing our personal limitations and what we need, there is also a goodness in giving abundantly.
Although it cannot be accurately attributed to St. Francis, the line from the “Prayer of St. Francis” puts it well: it is in giving that we receive. At Mass, we have the offertory, where we place all we are on the altar with the simple bread and wine. As the words of consecration are prayed, it is turned into the Body, Blood, Soul, and Divinity of Jesus Christ. It becomes pure gift, nourishment for us to continue to live our Christian lives imbued with the necessary graces. Our little offering of self combined with the total offering of Christ on the cross is given back to us as food for the journey.
If we don’t spend ourselves, we won’t be able to receive as much. Instead, we must be like the widow who gives her last coin, trusting that Christ will provide for us in the midst of our poverty, when we have spent all we have and we have nothing stored up for ourselves. When all we have left is receptivity, God has a well-known tendency to provide.
When desperate, we continue to ask for the miracle.
When tired, we continue to pour ourselves for Christ.
When lost, we continue to seek about beauty, truth, and goodness.
We give this life back to Christ so He may bless, break, and give of it as He will. And we trust that there will always be more grace to come. It will never run out because the God we love can never be outdone in generosity toward His little children.
We are just getting warmed up, friends. Keep running. The best is yet to come.