Something clicked for me this morning while running. I've always loved running, but something about running in Mali makes it a much different experience. The heat and the dust make it downright uncomfortable. Competition is completely absent (unless I'm feeling spunky and decide to race a little kid on a bike). After running any decent distance, I often suffer from headaches (due to the heat?). The gawkers at the side of the road and the crowds of children that scream "tubabu", steal away any semblance of serenity. And Mali lacks the quiet, treed hills of northeastern Ohio, the mountain views of North Carolina and Utah, and the still, early morning grandeur of old town Montpellier, France (these are a few of my favorite things…).
Yet somehow, from my earliest days here in Mali, I've known running to be one of my few, thin lines to sanity. When I cannot run because of an injury or a busy schedule, I feel a bit lost. Under the blazing sun as my feet roll across the red dirt and sand, I'm strangely calmed. I don't spend a lot of time considering the unpleasant conditions; mainly, with a strange mix of resignation and pleasure, I just shut up and run.
This morning, I realized that it is perhaps because of, and not in spite of, the difficulty of these runs that I enjoy them. I don't have to run very far to see several sights that remind me that life here in Mali is hard. Hard for people, hard for animals, hard for vegetation. There is the woman laboring to peddle her loaded bicycle into market, the herd of thin cows being driven out to pasture ("where?" one might fairly ask), and browns of shrubs and trees awaiting rain. These are visual signposts that also point to the emotional, financial, and spiritual difficulties that lie underneath the surface.
As with good worship, which brings the body, mind, emotions, and spirit into whole worship before the Lord, so these runs seem to put my body on the combat line, allied with my whole self against the difficulties that would threaten my well-being.
Before leaving France, I was involved in a study of the book of Job, and since, I've been ruminating on what I would call the strange-comforts of the book. In general, I find the book troubling, and I have no easy answers on how to make it more palatable. I don't easily reconcile the image of "the God of all comfort" seen so often elsewhere and the rather cold, hard non-explanation given Job at the end of the book. I've wrestled with His severity—simultaneously understanding (and desiring to obey) His severe call on our lives (holiness, it turns out, is not as optional as we'd like to make it) and puzzling over why He has driven me to a seemingly desolate, sheer-sided mountain and told me to climb. Despite the numerous "beefs" I have against the book, I've found myself drawing strange comfort from certain angles of the story during these last few months.
Now, I neither consider myself as righteous or long-suffering as Job, nor do I pretend my current life situation is parallel to Job's (far from it!). Yet, in the past months, I've identified with certain aspects of his story. Like Job and his friends, I've seen that while it doesn't give me license to ignore counsel from others, the story does show that even well-meaning people can make the wrong judgment call on my life and my present difficulties. At moments of clarity, I'm also able to see that the Lord "assigns me my portion and cup," and that He considers me worthy (and capable) of such trials. And then, though I see it still as through a haze, I'm beginning to see the joy of His strong, if severe, leadership through difficulty.
In our Western, individualized society, we don't take kindly to being told what to do, without at very least being told why it must be done. This is perhaps one of the biggest reasons we avoid Job—precisely because God doesn't explain the why. Yet, often crises call for a severe leadership. I imagine this is very true in combat. I have no combat experience, so I will speak of what I know. In the case of a medical emergency, chaos often breaks out as people run in all directions trying to accomplish a million things at once, resembling a room of headless chickens. The best thing that can happen at that moment is for someone—someone with great knowledge and experience—to step in and, in essence, say, "Everyone shut up and do as I say." It seems severe (and perhaps downright disrespectful of our individual worth and liberty), but for the good of the patient, someone has to take charge and organize the chaos.
Could it be the strange grace and love of God that in moments of difficulty, instead of indulging our pity parties and temper tantrums, He points severely to what He has commanded? Could it be that "shut up and run" might be the kindest thing He can say in moments when we are ready to crumble; that in doing so, He brings me, body and soul, to face the difficulties so that I might overcome?
I'm not totally sure why I post this, since I clearly see that if I was the reader, I would find it something akin to chewing cardboard—largely distasteful and perhaps a bit wrong-headed. However, since I'm not in the middle of any crises right now, (which allows me to see things a bit more clearly), maybe this will serve as a good reminder in moments of deeper difficulty. I am, after all, saying that sometimes (both physically and metaphorically) we just need to shut up and run.