Am I now trying to win the approval of men, or of God? Or am I trying to please men? If I were still trying to please men, I would not be a servant of Christ."
Running shoes donned.
Water bottles filled and packed in water belt.
I head out to run.
The first song pumping through my headphones is Phillips, Craig and Dean's "Awake My Soul." And my heart joins in, feeling lighter, muscles warming, lungs expanding.
And I enter a cathedral of mild morning temperatures, carpets of dewy grass and soft sunlight. My feet seem to fly.
I rarely have the trails to myself. This is a fitness-crazy town and no matter the time of day, there are fellow runners out there. In the early part of my run, I give a short wave to fellow runners and bikers, nodding our good mornings.
But I'm focused at this point, monitoring my stride, thinking of the path in front of me. Just the road and the music and the alone time with my Father. That's the cadence.
It lasts for a while.
And then, as the heat rises and I grow tired, I start noticing all those runners around me. I start to wonder if I look like I'm running too slow. I wonder if my gait looks strange to them. I wonder if my running skirt is still considered fashionable. I wonder some more if I look really slow. And suddenly I have allowed the creep of approval to encroach on my shores of solitude.
As if any of the focused runners and bikers around me would even care about my shoes or pace. Or if they did care, that I should even care.
Sometimes, I find myself having to focus as much on not searching for the approval of my fellow athletes as much as I do on my stride. That approval thing can run deep sometimes.
In Margaret Feinberg's excellent book, The Sacred Echo, she tells of an experience of going with some friends to run laps at a track. She took off on her slow-but-steady pace and was left in the dust by her friends. Other runners were engaging in all manner of training exercises and sprints and intensity workouts. Feinberg writes that as she took in all the activity and began down that dangerous path of comparing herself to the other joggers, she felt the words of our Father on her heart:
"You follow Me."
Not the trends, not the myriad of paths and techniques and theories. But to simply follow Him.
I think on that truth when I hit those cul-de-sacs of self-consciousness. I'm not out there running to impress anyone. I'm not out there prove anything to anyone.
I'm just out there to take care of the temple. And to have some time with Him.
And to reflect again on the apt metaphor that we each have a race to run and a lane to stay in.
That will take us straight into His arms.
And it is His approval that is all that matters.