“No, really, I’m not a runner”
The guy in front of me at the supermarket checkout line was trying to clarify his status with the clerk. But the evidence was there in plain sight of all of us: a running magazine and four packets of gel, the kind runners use.
“So you don’t run.”, the clerk was sliding into interrogation mode.
“Well, yeah, I mean… I run but…”
“Then you’re a runner.”, the clerk finished his sentence
“Yeah”, chimed in the girl bagging his stuff, “You run, so you’re a runner.”
It sounded reasonable to me.
“No”, the cornered running non-runner protested, “I am not a runner.”
The clerk shot the bag girl a quick “I got this” glance and asked, “Why not? Why, if you run, doesn’t that make you a runner?
I had come to the market for a couple gallons of milk and found myself in the middle of a great drama. I sat my milk down and crossed my arms, letting the non-runner know I was camping out on the side of the inquisition.
He looked at me for support, but I was not going there. You see, I had faced this same trial years back. I understood his pain, his desire to be out of that white hot soul bearing spotlight. But I also knew that there was only one way to recovery, and if he weasled out now, he’d be a running non-runner forever.
When I was out preparing for my first marathon there were days when I didn’t feel like running. Work, the weather, a sore earlobe—many were the excuses and reasons that allowed me to ignore my training schedule. And the permissive phrase that was always at the back of my mind was, “Besides, I’m not really a runner.”
Runners are lean, sinewy and don’t fart. They always eat the right things, say yes to kale and no to Ho Hos. They are on the road long before sunup and have their daily miles completed before most of us have hit the snooze button for the first time. They are often out again after the sun has gone down, doing mile repeats while most of us are on our first beer.
Runners know their resting heart rate, maximum heart rate and their neighbor’s heart rate. They win races, if not overall, then at least their age category. Following the races they win, they are not sweaty, and many of them jog 15 miles home. To be a runner is to be perfect at running.
My understanding of what was going through this guy’s head was confirmed as he looked down and stared at the magazine cover. Smiling up at us all was Perfect Runner: ripped abs, bronze skin, standing upright on one leg as he pulled the other behind him in a stretch that exposed well defined quadriceps. This is what a runner looks like. To be a runner is to be perfect at running.
It was painfully obvious to my non-runner running friend that the guy on the magazine cover was not the guy buying it. He couldn’t be a runner because he wasn’t perfect at running.
It was painfully obvious to a first century fisherman that the guy standing in his boat was a lot different than the one who typically rowed it. Jesus had hopped into Simon’s boat as an offshore stage to teach the crowds. Then he tells Simon to drop his nets where Simon had already tried. All night. So, to humor the preacher he does what Jesus says. Shortly after the nets started breaking, Simon has a “moment”.
In that moment he realizes that the Who’s Who of holy people is standing in his presence. Simon’s response?
Not a mean or obnoxious “Go away”. But the kind of “Go away” you say when you realize that you are not, when you are in the presence of someone who is. It’s the kind of “Go away” that’s spoken by a humbled and fearful heart before the mind can stop it. The heart sees well before the mind shortcomings, blemishes, the dark places within us. If holy means set apart by God for God, Simon’s heart tells him he is far from either.
I’m thinking Simon had magazine cover expectations about what it meant to be holy. As he watched all the holy people around him, saw all holy people assemblies, one thing became more and more clear: Simon wasn’t what they were. Oh sure, he probably did some holy stuff from time to time and occasionally had holy thoughts, but when it came to claiming the title “holy” he’d respond, “No, really, I’m not.”
We all live in two realities: Objective reality and subjective reality. Objective is fact; whether you feel it or not, it’s true. Like gravity– you might feel like you can fly, but if you jump unassisted off a rooftop you’ll be quickly convinced of objective reality called gravity. Subjective is what you feel; if you don’t feel it, it’s not true to you. Like love– someone might truly love you and if you don’t feel it, it’s not true to you.
This is where a lot of us get stuck.
My non-runner running friend—objectively, he runs, so he is a runner. Subjectively, he’s not like the guy on the cover, so he is not a runner. He’s stuck between a glossy image and the reality of his life.
And Simon—stuck between what holy ought to be and his own distant imitation of it.
It’s interesting that Jesus didn’t go away. He sees through Simon’s words and speaks into his heart; “Don’t be afraid”. Some of the greatest episodes of God’s story open with those words. It’s like Jesus saying, “Simon, I got you. I know where you are. I know you are stuck.”
Then Jesus applies the words that unstick Simon, “From now on, you will be catching men.” OK, so there’s a whole lot of theological stuff that is happening here, but stay shallow with me for a minute and look at the whole scene: Simon is minding his own business. The holy of holy guys shows up, commandeers his boat and speaks a new truth into Simon’s life: holy is not about appearance. It’s not about being perfect. It’s about being called where you are as you are and going from there.
If you follow Simon’s story, you see he never gets the perfect thing down. Even after the name change to Peter and the image-lift, he probably would not have made any magazine covers. But that didn’t really seem too important to him after Jesus spoke into his life. What mattered is that Jesus called him where he was, as he was, and he went from there. I think Peter figured out that holy happens as a result of his journey with Jesus. The Bible is a strong witness that somewhere between Jesus showing up and the time of his death, holy happened to Peter.
It’s kinda like that when it comes to running. You don’t start out as a magazine cover candidate. Most of us will never get there. But that’s OK, because being a runner is not about appearance, or being perfect, or getting the best time, or always feeling like putting on the shoes. It’s about starting where you are, as you are, and going from there. After awhile, you look back at the testimony of miles run, muscles pulled, races completed and it all says one thing:
You have run.
So you’re a runner.
You may be slow. You may be ugly. But there’s no denying it: you’re a runner. And runners run. So stay in the race, because it’s the only way to get from here to there.
Someday I hope to see my non-runner running friend again. I’ll flip the magazine over, and look him in the eye and tell him: “You’re a runner. No, really, you are. Stay on the road.”