Monday, 3 August 2015

A Pain in the Abdomen

Sometimes when I run, I get a stitch.

Now apparently, the good news about stitches, is that you get them less as you get older. So although they are a right royal pain in the a....bdomen, they remain a glorious reminder that I am still, relatively, young.

But they are a pain. And when I get one, my instinctive reaction is to stop running, there and then, and then to never start again.

I don't like pain.

But apparently, stitches aren't like "regular" pain. Regular pain is often there to tell you that something is wrong. As babies pain teaches us, fairly swiftly, that hands don't go in fires. Or ovens. Or sockets. Or the mouths of angry dogs. And pain can serve a similar purpose when you run. If, for example, you are running and get the sensation of a chainsaw wielding demon having a knife party in say, your heart, it's probably a good idea to stop. Or if when you're running your leg starts to send messages to your brain to indicate that it is broken, the main outcome your leg is angling for is that you stop running on it. Stat.

But stitches aren't like that. As far as science currently tells us (and by science, I mean the few articles I googled before I decided I'd read enough to make my point), on the whole, continuing to run when you have a stitch isn't going to cause you more damage. Hurray! Because this means you can continue your jog.

(Just in case you are someone who came across this article looking for actual information on stitches- I'll just say as an aside that apparently it also helps if you a) leave time between eating and exercise b) breathe properly and c) touch your toes briefly and then carry on. But if you want a professional's advice, go search up someone who knows actual information about running.) 

When you run the Christian life, you get stitches.

And by stitches, I guess I just mean pain. Sharp, stabbing, intrusive, frustrating, persistent pain. It could be the pain of rejection from people that don't understand your perceived weirdnesses, it could be the loneliness of choosing to honour God above having a certain relationship, it could be actual, physical pain-  from the other end of the spectrum to the stitch, it could be unrelenting discouragements in discipleship and witness, it could be spiritual apathy from friends and family or worse- hatred, beatings, imprisonment.

And the instinctive reaction when you endure sharp, stabbing, intrusive, frustrating, persistent pain is to stop. If the Christian life causes pain, then our gut tells us: stop running. That's essentially what Seed Number 2 does in the parable of the sower. He's jogging along with joy, gets an almighty stitch in the form of "trouble or persecution because of the word" and immediately packs it in.

But pain in the Christian life is more like a stitch than a broken leg, because carrying on through pain isn't going to do you any more harm. In fact, gloriously- it's going to do you good.

Paul writes, "our light and momentary troubles are achieving for us an eternal glory that far outweighs them." (2 Corinthians 4:17)

He's saying: don't give up because of the pain. Don't believe the pain is doing you harm. Believe what He has promised: that it's actually doing you more good than you can imagine, bringing about weightier glory than you can imagine. When your gut says "stop", it's not seeing the big picture. There are all kinds of treasures being forged in the dark ("He knows the way that I take, and when I have been tested, I shall come forth as gold." Job 23:10), so just keep running.

So now, when I run and get a stitch, I try to keep running. Often, it feels like it's doing me damage (like I am running with a dagger doing an impression of a pneumatic drill on my insides) but it's not. Science (or those articles I googled) says. And continuing to run is doing me good. So I tell myself: just keep running.

And that's one of the big New Testament messages about pain too. It's real, it's messy, it might last a lifetime, and it's a pain in the abdomen. But it is doing you good: so just keep running.

"Therefore, since we are surrounded by such a great cloud of witnesses, let us throw off everything that hinders and the sin that so easily entangles, and let us run with perseverance the race marked out for us... Consider Him who endured such opposition from sinful men, so that you will not grow weary and lose heart." 
Hebrews 12:1&3

There's more to say on what it means to keep running, but that's for another post.

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