Saturday, April 23, 2016

The Mental Race--Attitude is everything!

The mental side of running is currently a hot topic within the sport.  Truly mind and body are connected and what takes place in the mind certainly effects the body and thus your race results.  There are an abundance of articles on the web offering tips and advice on how to harness your thoughts so as to run more swiftly and effortlessly because what you allow yourself to think during a race can have significant negative or positive consequences.  As they saying goes,  Attitude is everything!

It's pretty easy to keep a positive mental outlook early on in any given race, but as the miles pile on it is increasingly difficult to maintain one.  During my last 10K race I experienced this first hand.  I was hoping to set a personal pace record and at the outset of the race I "owned it"--or so I thought.  I was feeling good, running strong, vigorous, full of energy and ready to tackle the course. No worries.  The distance was not an obstacle for me as I routinely run this distance, but as the race wore on maintaining an 8 minute mile became increasingly challenging.  At about mile four while running up the last half of a two mile gradual incline my attitudes and thoughts began to shift--subtly at first and then very drastically.  My vigor was gone.  I felt weak and worn out.  Taking the next step, let alone the next 2,000+, was arduous.   This is where the mental "race" began.  The thoughts and attitudes I believed step after step would determine weather I would endure and persevere or concede and fold.  The extreme challenge at this point consisted in pushing aside the very tangible, obnoxious and persistent negative thoughts and replacing them with positive truths.

When I hit the wall on race day I experienced the reality of each negative thought within my very being--with every breath, and in every single laborious stride.  There was no denying the difficulty of the situation and my mind would believe nothing contrary to that fact.  However, I could shift my attention from those negative realities to a wealth of greater and stronger truths; namely my solid preparation, previous successes, and the fast approaching finish.  The truth I needed to continually focus and refocus on was that I had trained hard, put in many miles, completed increasingly difficult speed-work, and had run on through fatigue for months prior to running the scheduled race.  I knew I  COULD run on through adversity because I had done it weekly leading up to race day.  The key to victory lay in reminding myself of the positive truths and not allowing the negative realities to drag me down.

Similarly, so many of our spiritual races are won or lost in our minds.  Paul writes "Therefore since we are surrounded by such a large crowd of witnesses to the life of faith, let us strip off every weight that slows us down, especially the sin that so easily trips us up.  And let us run with endurance the race God has set before us (Hebrews 12:1-2)."   Often we look at the outward observable behaviors in order to assess race progress--ours or others.  Though the righteous will certainly display good works externally, victory is achieved internally.  Jesus pointed out in the famous sermon on the mount that sin isn't a surface disease; it runs very deep within us.  For example, murder takes place in the mind with anger. Adultery is committed with a lustful look.  Weather we acknowledge it or not, the thoughts and attitudes we harbor in the secret recesses of our minds actually define us.  Proverbs 23:7 says, "For as he thinks in his heart, so is he." How comfortable are you with the thoughts that routinely make themselves at home in your mind?  Does doubt, envy, hatred, pride, deceit, idolatry, disrespect, cowardess, covetousness, sexual immorality, greed, or selfishness ever have a backstage pass or an extended stay vacation in your mind?  I hope not, but in all honesty some of them likely visit us more frequently then we'd like to admit.  

Jesus knowing advice to the self-righteous pharisees who "had a form of godliness, but denied it's power" was, "First clean the inside of the cup and dish, then the outside also will be clean (Mathew 23:26)." He invited them to examine the condition of their hearts (or minds), wrestle with the evil therein and let the external cleanliness follow naturally.  Similarly, if we want to improve our race outcome we must examine our mental game.  Are there any thoughts or attitudes we are harboring which are hindering our progress?  If so, take courage!  You are in good company.  In Romans 7:24 Paul cries out, "Oh, what a miserable person I am!  Who will free me from this life that is dominated by sin and death?" 

The ugly reality is that we all face both external and internal adversity in this life.  It makes no difference who you are or what you believe.  Sin, pain, sorrow, suffering, and death are universal realities in this world, but the empowering truth is... we have a savior!  A real, compassionate, and loving savior who knows the full extent of our depravity and yet unapoligetically stoops to meet us where we are at.  The same God who humbled himself by leaving His throne on high to be born of a woman and walk amongst sinners in a sin stained world continues to descend deeper still into the darkest recesses of the human heart.  The same King of Kings and Lord of Lords who dwelt among us causing the lame to walk, the blind to see, demons to flea, and death to loose it's sting seeks to abide in us, cleanse us from all unrighteousness, and bring us victory over sin and death.  Though sin runs deep, Christ's love for sinners runs deeper still.

As you "Run on!" and inevitably hit the wall where the negative reality of sin threatens to consume you and each step becomes a laborious effort, may you push aside those negative realities by continually focusing and re-focusing your thoughts on the truth as it is in Jesus our blessed redeemer.  He has gone before us, put in the miles, ran on through adversity, and achieved the victory!  This same champion who sits at the right hand of the Father today promises to never leave us or forsake us.  Isaiah 46:4 states it beautifully "Even to your old age and gray hairs I am he, I am he who will sustain you.  I have made you and I will carry you; I will sustain you and I will rescue you."   There need be NO question as to weather you can "Run On!" because as the children's song goes-- He's able! He's able! I KNOW He's able! I know my Lord is able to carry you through! If attitude is everything, then let's run with hope, determination and perseverance knowing that "Christ in me (IS) the Hope of Glory!"  May you be filled to overflowing today!  

For more on Christ's cleansing work within check out my previous post entitled "God's Masterpiece." 

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