“Are you ready to go?”
My college roommate, Jenn, stood in the doorway on one leg, the other bent in a quadricep stretch. Her hair was in a ponytail, her sneakers were on her feet, and her mind already seemed to be on the pavement. Though I was also dressed for exercise, I couldn’t say I was “ready” to run the 3-mile perimeter of Vanderbilt’s campus.
“Can’t we just walk?” I sat on the edge of the bed, not stretching. “It would be easier for us to talk if we walk.”
Jenn planted both feet on the ground and said, “We live together. We talk all the time. It’s time to run!”
I remembered why Jenn was the future law student, and I was the theologian-in-training.
“I have an idea,” Jenn said. “We can go out for cheeseburgers after the run. That’ll be your reward. But you’ve got to run the whole loop.”
I lept to my feet and started running in place, as if that would “warm me up.” Jenn knew me well. Back then, the promise of a burger and fries would motivate me to exercise, study, or clean the apartment.
So began my tumultuous, off-and-on-again relationship with running. I made it through that first run with frequent yelling of “Cheeseburger!” from Coach Jenn when I’d ask for a break. While I didn’t particularly like running for exercise, I felt like it was good for me. But my friend loved to run, and I enjoyed spending that time with her.
After Jenn and I graduated, the motivation to run waned. Jenn’s relationship with the road blossomed into running a half-marathon. Or was it a full marathon? Running and I would get together for a while, then break up again. I even reached the point of running a 5K without the need to hear “cheeseburger!” at every mile marker. As soon as the 5K was over, I decided to dump running and return to my beloved, fast-paced walking for exercise.
Until I decided to adopt a dog.
Last fall, I started running occasionally to prepare for the energy of a labrador retriever. When Isaac found me, he was ready to run more than the “loop” at Vanderbilt. Unlike Jenn, he did not promise me a reward other than his happiness. Even though I still don’t enjoy running, I enjoy how much he enjoys running. I enjoy what we share. I enjoy watching his four legs become two in a sprint. I enjoy the way that he will walk with me after I run with him. I had to learn to sacrifice my “favorite” form of exercise in order to experience our shared joy.
What we have seen and heard, we also announce it to you so that you can have fellowship with us. Our fellowship is with the Father and with his Son, Jesus Christ. We are writing these things so that our joy can be complete. (1 John 1:3-4)
Joy does not come from getting our first choice all the time. If joy is dependent on getting our own way, we need to rethink our understanding of joy. The writer of 1 John reminds us that the joy of our salvation is “incomplete” when not shared. Sometimes sharing in joy requires us to sacrifice of self.
In the past decade, as I’ve moved from college to graduate school to full-time employment, I often hear people, especially in my age range, express the opposite of joy in their personal and professional lives. Some of this dissatisfaction stems from individual circumstances: a lack of self-care, unexpected losses, changes in relationships, etc. But we also shun joy sometimes because we’re too centered on self. We can’t find that “perfect” job that allows us to do exactly what we want for 40 hours, maximum, each week. Our relationships never seem “good enough” because we don’t get our way as often as we’d like. I’ve been there. You probably have, too. We’re imperfect, we live in an imperfect world, but we all have ideas of what a “perfect” life could be. We go after that pie-in-the-sky, and we’re disappointed when it doesn’t happen. We’d rather walk than run.
Joy for today can be “complete” for each of us, but we might have to run instead of walk. Joy increases in us as we share in what brings our “Jenns” and “Isaacs” joy. Let us go into the future filled with Christ’s love, finding joy in life’s everyday realities.
In the wise words of my college roommate, “Are you ready to run?”
all good things to each of you,
Read more from Darian Duckworth at her blog.