Running With Unseen Burdens


Shedding Unnecessary Problems Brings Joy

by Eric Elkin

Under [the cedar] every kind of bird will live; in the shade of its branches will nest winged creatures of every kind.
— Ezekiel 17: 23b

One summer, a friend asked me to join him in running Grandma’s Marathon in Duluth, MN. We ran the New York City Marathon together a couple of years before, so it seemed natural for him to ask me. However, my friend was a much more dedicated runner than myself. While he ran marathons, I was in seminary chasing two children under the age of five. It was a different kind of exercise. Still, I felt in good enough shape to run and thought a trip to Duluth would be fun. So I agreed to run with him.


The morning of the marathon was cool for June. When we started the race, it was 42 degrees on the shores of Lake Superior. A cool breeze was sweeping in off the water making it feel colder than the actual temperature. I decided to run in a long-sleeve shirt.


The race started out beautifully. I was surprised by my fitness. The running came easy, and my pace reflected it. Something changed at the halfway point. Unfamiliar with northern Minnesota, I didn’t realize how quickly a chilly early morning could turn hot. By the second hour of running, the temperature had shot up to 88 degrees. 


The humidity of the lake increased the intensity of the heat. My body was overheating, and my pace started to drop off. To help cool myself off, I started dumping water on my head at every station I passed. It made my shirt soaking wet. I wanted to take the shirt off, but, it was one of my favorites. So, instead, I decided to tough it out. 

Decision is a risk rooted in the courage of being free.
— Paul Tillich

Heading into the last two miles of the race, I couldn’t take it any longer. I threw off my shirt leaving it on the side of the road. Immediately, I felt twenty pounds lighter. There was a new bounce to my step. My pace picked up, and it felt like I sprinted to the finish line. The water soaked shirt weighed me down more than I realized. 


The joy of shedding that soaking wet shirt remains vivid in my mind. Those last two miles were the happiest I have ever been while running. At the same time, I feel like an idiot for hanging on to it for so long. I compromised my health and comfort for a $10 t-shirt.


Running that marathon came to my mind when reading about taking off funeral clothes and being dressed with joy. I know that feeling. People who have made it out of a crisis into joy, understand it as well. 


The psalm also made me think about all the times the problems in my life are self-inflicted, a result of not wanting to change. Funeral clothes are more likely to be an attitude than a garment. It leaves me wondering, what change do you need to make this day? The courage to make the change may result in joy.

Click to read: Psalm 30

Reflection Questions:

  • When has something burdened more than you realized?
  • What did it feel like when you rid yourself of the burden?
  • What did it take for you to see the problem?
  • When has grief turned to joy? And, how did that happen?

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