I think we often define ourselves by the things we believe we are not just as much as we define ourselves by the things we are. I am a publicist. I am a preacher’s daughter. I am a writer. I am not a musician. I am not a chef. I am not an athlete.
It’s funny I’ve always told people I’m not an athlete because I played sports from age 5 to 18 and I played intramural volleyball each year in college. I even tried playing in a couple of leagues after college, and I’ve run regularly for about 12 years now. Yet I always give this disclaimer about me and my athletic abilities and tell people I’m not a very good athlete, never was. I decided that because I never got MVP, I was mediocre and a mediocre athlete isn’t an athlete.
The way we rule things out of our capabilities can be so destructive. Maybe one person one time told you you’re not a great singer, or that you really can’t pull off skinny jeans, or you look funny when you kick a soccer ball and for years to come you don’t sing, and you don’t play soccer, and you don’t wear skinny jeans. For me, I participate in athletics but refuse to get too competitive, thinking I’m not very good so I shouldn’t try too hard.
This was my plan for the most recent half marathon I ran. I never set time goals for races because I feel like I don’t deserve to. As if keeping one’s pace is only for true athletes. But this time I decided my hard work and training deserved to be paced and tested, and I was tired of always finishing races at the same pace. So one day I quietly declared my dream finish time. I set a goal.
And on race day, for 13.1 miles, I forced myself to take steps toward this goal. I didn’t say, “I can only do what I can do” or “It’s ok if you have to walk.” I didn’t say that because I knew I was capable of running the whole time and running a little faster than usual. So instead, I told myself things I thought real athletes probably tell themselves: “You can do this. Lean into the hill. This is where it counts!” As cheesy as it all sounds, it worked. For 13.1 miles I made the conscious decision to believe in myself. I ran hard and I prayed more than I usually do. And after what felt like forever, I crossed the finish line 10 minutes under my dream time.
I am still asking who ran that race. I’ve never run that fast in my life, and I flew high on endorphins for about 12 days afterward.
At the risk of over spiritualizing something, I believe God was proving a point about my identity in that race. He proved that we can really limit our lives when we declare aloud we are not ____. Because when we do this, we are deciding who we are rather than allowing Christ to be who we are. If Christ is our identity, we really have no right to say we are one thing and not another.
I’ve noticed the courage gained from that half marathon has carried over into other areas of my life. It has begun to chip away at negatives I’ve allowed to define me like, “He would never be interested in me. I’m not outspoken in meetings. I hate public speaking.” These are not truths. Really, they are fears. And I am seeing them, while slowly, lose power and become smaller, and this is the hope that we all have, already in us.