Beginning my first cross-country season last fall, as a junior in high school, was intimidating. The girls on my team had more experience, they were in better shape, and they knew the training routines inside and out.
I thought my sudden switch from 12 years of soccer to cross-country had come just through logical reasoning, but it turned out that a chance for spiritual growth had been pulling me in that direction as well. Though I'd played many sports in the past, I soon learned that cross-country required a different type of endurance. And, to me, the mental aspect of soccer is much more subtle than in cross-country.
This was only the beginning of a season full of powerful spiritual growth that blessed my teammates as well as me.
Although my coach didn't have a background in Christian Science like me, he picked up on the clear correlation between mental stamina and physical speed. But his ideas were way different from what I was used to. He told the team that being a faster racer meant you were mentally able to endure more pain than another racer. The first thing I thought about when he said this was that enduring pain was not going to be my focus for the season! I liked the fact that he was taking the importance away from physicality, but I was determined to find an even more spiritual aspect to running. So when the team went around and everyone said their goals for the season, mine was to run "without limits."
Practices were often laid back, but a few times I found myself struggling. When exposed to extreme heat during a training session, my teammates and I were all battling to finish our course. I chose to battle with what I knew to be superior: God, Spirit. I decided to embrace the warmth and energy of the sun without accepting the negative effects it might otherwise have. My mental battle reminded me of Jacob, who went into the forest and wrestled with an angel before the breaking of the day (see Gen. 32:24–30). Angels—God's thoughts leading me on, inspiring me—pushed back against the overwhelming suggestion "I can't do it" with each step of the way. Only through uplifting my thought was I able to complete the entire training session, and there was plenty of time to have a nice, cool drink of water. I'd been given a better option than suffering through the experience.
Before my first race, everyone around me was talking about how nervous they were and whether or not the lunch they ate was appropriate. They were afraid of how the food would settle in their stomachs and how much pain they would have to bear. I've learned through Christian Science that fear is often at the foundation of ailments, and that allaying the fear of a condition can be the key to taking away its power. This realization will often translate to healing. In this case, nerves and fear were connected to the condition of failure.
But feeling unsure of my ability to run that race would be doubting God's power to conquer any obstacle. Worrying about all the pain I was going to be in while running would be admitting that error and matter had power over my experience. So, I decided to turn to God and run this race spiritually, not on a basis of timing, suffering, and final placement.
The first thing that came to me was a question: What is speed? The answer followed almost as the question itself was formed. Speed was surpassing human limitations. It was inspiration. The "breath" of inspiration could not be short, but was natural and easy. The purpose of my race that day was to prove God's power and rid myself of the fear of failure. I went through each line of the Daily Prayer from the Manual of The Mother Church and gained new meaning (see p. 41). These first few lines stuck out to me:
"Thy kingdom come!"
I could run in God's kingdom, experiencing the race by relying on Spirit, not matter.
Let the reign of divine Truth, Life, and Love be established in me,
The breath of inspiration could be established, rather than the breath of "error." Divine Truth, Life, and Love were ruling me and guiding me through the race.
And rule out of me all sin...
The "sin" in the situation was just thinking of myself from a material standpoint, and forgetting about my identity as spiritual. There could no sin, or missing the mark, when I was being governed by Truth, Life, and Love.
Throughout the day in preparing for the race, I felt completely calm. I was confident and fully in the "kingdom of heaven," which meant experiencing harmony and spirituality. I felt that serenity all the way up to the starting line, for each step of the race—and, eventually, across the finish line. As I raced, I sang a hymn in my head, though now I can't remember which. I chose to run spiritually and gave no power to physical complaints of exhaustion. As I crossed the finish line, I ended up being the first girl from my school, despite the fact that it was my first race. I knew I owed it not to how many miles of training I put in or how much pain I could endure, but rather to the extent upon which I relied on God to propel me forward through the race.
This demonstration was only the beginning of a season full of powerful spiritual growth that blessed my teammates as well as me. A close friend of mine, with whom I'd had in-depth conversations about Christian Science, had run the year before in what I would call "hell": resentment toward her coach, self-hatred, irritation at the fans cheering her on, and the pain she was feeling at the same time. She loved races after she completed them, but during each race she struggled.
We began to train with each other over the summer. When she told me about her problems, I let her in on the "secret" to my success. I wanted to share all about the incredible Truth that had helped me. So I told her about opening up my thought to a harmonious race, in which divine Principle was guiding all action. I told her that every negative thought she had was weighing her down and that she was just as capable of running quickly as any other girl, if she could change her attitude and release all her mental baggage. We talked about the ideas I worked with in my first race and how she, too, could run without limits by understanding that her mental condition was what assisted in her race.
It took her a few races before she decided to try this new way of thinking, but the first time she did, she improved her 5K race by a full minute! She continued to improve during the season, telling me "it was absolutely God's power."
As the season continued, I found that my races were fastest on the days when I had the clearest sense of purpose and spiritual guidance. A satisfying finale to a rewarding season was my race at districts, when I ran a full minute faster than ever, missing the cutoff for state by just three places.
Spiritual facts, like muscles, needed to be exercised and applied to make me run faster. The more I put the understanding of God's law of harmony as an infinite energy source into practice, the better I ran. Months later, I continue to exercise my spiritual fitness, in sports and beyond.
Olivia will be a senior in high school in the fall and enjoys running and playing ultimate frisbee with her friends.
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