Today, I didn’t run until after breakfast. It was still cool, in the 50s, with the sunlight chasing the shadow. Clouds from out of the west moved in huge silent, dark-bottomed herds across the sky, promising rain eventually. I needed to do this before the deluge.
I ran 4 miles. And not surprisingly, my body didn’t like it. I thought, Where is my mental tough girl today?! Can she make a cameo appearance, please? Come out, come out, wherever you are! Geez. I reached the top of the hill and walked a little. I pressed on to the turnaround and started back. Mercifully, the way back is mostly downhill. It’s a good thing.
But as I coasted down the hill, my right side started to ache. Really!? And then the pain was excruciating, right under my sternum. I had to smile. Been here before. My breathing became irregular, which you know if you’re a runner, is the kiss of death. Yes, your muscles and correct form keep you upright. But your breathing propels you, like the wind in the sails of a catamaran. You.must.control.your.breathing. So I went back to triplets – 1-2-3, 1-2-3, regulated breaths in and out. It creates a sort of hemiola with whatever music I’m listening to. Not a blood disease.
I can’t say I completely conquered the side ache, but I managed to finish. Then I looked at my watch. Holy cow! I shaved more than a minute off each mile. No wonder I was hurting! The pain was because I had rocket-coffee fueled feet today. I could not seem to go slower. I did not intend to burn up the pavement.
I am becoming a faster runner. But, as you can imagine, there is a cost: pain. And a certain amount of nausea.
I read in Exodus today, starting in chapter 3. God commissioned Moses to speak to His people, to get them ready to leave Egypt. Moses would be God’s prophet and his brother Aaron the mouthpiece. Moses argues with God about the whole thing. Eventually, God got angry. Moses it not entirely sure he wants to become. He’ been hiding out in the wilderness, content with his low-key life. He figured the excitement in his life was past.
When Moses and Aaron confront Pharaoh about leaving to go worship Yahweh, he cried, “They are lazy!” He ordered the Israelite foremen to make their bricks without provided straw now. They must gather their own and still make their quota. Take that! He resented the interference with his slaves and lashed out. The word is tested.
The Israelite foreman push back on Pharaoh. He responded: “You’re just lazy! Lazy! That’s why you’re saying, ‘Let us go and offer sacrifices to the Lord.’ Now get back to work! No straw will be given to you…” (Ex. 5:17).
So, the foremen complain to Moses. This is not what they had in mind at all. Moses, in turn, complains to the Lord: “Why have you brought all this trouble on your own people, Lord? Why did you send me? Ever since I came to Pharaoh as your spokesman, he has been even more brutal to your people. And you have done nothing to rescue them!” (v. 22).
God comforted his people in the next chapter, true to His goodness. But the children of the promise didn’t understand that they were complacent. They were comfortable as slaves; everything they needed was within reach. No, they weren’t free, but they were well-cared for. Yet God had so much more for them. But in order for them to even *want* it, they had to be shaken out of their comfort zone. He used pain – the physical pain of hard labor, whippings and verbal abuse – to awaken them. In other words, he made their lives tougher.
We are not so different. Usually it takes a series of rotten circumstances or some sickness for us to look up and acknowledge our need for God. Our situations start to squeeze us out. The grace to work at a particular place doing a particular thing starts to run out. We feel uneasy, a bit unmoored.
God has a plan. He always has good in mind for us. The pain we’re experiencing now is part of the transformation process. I want to become faster, and run longer. The caterpillar must enter the cocoon to become the butterfly. The children endure discipline and learn to make good choices as they move into adulthood. Pain is part of the price we pay to mature.