Runners like to zone out. Getting in the zone is especially important for difficult or distance running. As with many sports or intense activities, that place referred to as “the zone” is often the key to success. It may determine whether you win, lose, or even finish. An off day can often be chalked up to a lack of focus and inability to stay in the game.
I always joke and say I’m not allowed to talk to my husband when he drag races. I have learned to speak as little as possible out of respect for his need to stay completely focused and on task.
Sometimes not being distracted is extremely important – like with drag racing. Sometimes the distraction itself is extremely important – like with distance running. When laboring with serious intent, on one hand we need autonomy. That’s the leave me alone zone. On the other hand we need a neutral plan of action meant to distract us from the pain and push us to persevere without it feeling like punishment. We can choose to make this zone a leave me alone zone, too…or we can actually choose to lean on the thoughts, needs, words, or even worries of another to help us finish the task before us.
I competed in the Mt. Summit Challenge Race this past weekend. Well, participated is probably a better word for me this year. Anyway, it is a 3.5 mile race straight up the mountain. It is not the first time I’ve run it by any means and it certainly isn’t the longest or most difficult race I’ve ever run. But it ranks. It ranks up there among the races requiring an in the zone mentality. If you are not all in, you are probably still on the mountain somewhere right now.
I had run up the course four times before the race over the past month or so and I am happy to say I did beat the goal I was striving for. Though ten minutes slower than previous years, I needed some slack for this I just had another baby year. So I feel really good about my slow time of 48 minutes. I did not make it up alone, though. I didn’t realize my goal without help. The leave me alone zone only worked until the really hard part. That’s the part of the race where you’re tired, you drank too much wine and ate too much food last night, your music is played out, you’re almost certain the feeling in your chest is legit heart failure, and you’re still climbing. I had to find a way to get my mind off the pain or I was soon to be a spectator rather than a participant. I texted my drag racer because I knew he would be able to speed me up. “Tell me a funny story” was my plea for help.
He began to tell me about a dirt farmer and a beautiful girl who planted seeds on his dirt. He told me how they made big messes and how their Master helped them clean up. And they grew pickles and eggs and omelets and babies. He sent me a picture of my baby, Sonny, and told me that that “egg” grew sonny side up. I corrected his grammar and he encouraged me with good words all the way to the finish line. I found myself laughing during the most difficult part of my race and smiling where I hurt the most.
That was this weekend, though. Last weekend that dragster needed some encouragement of his own. Last weekend my husband wrecked his drag car going 170 mph at the drag strip. The first thing he did after realizing that he was still alive was turn off all the switches to cut the power, unbuckle his five point safety harness, and crawl out the window. Even after rolling the car several times, taking out at least 50 feet of guard rail, and, by a miracle of God, not getting hurt or losing consciousness in the process, he was still in the zone. He knew he had to do what he could to keep the car from getting fuel and catching fire and get out as quickly as possible just in case. Because he is so tuned in to detail, all of his safety equipment worked and the Lord spared his life for his own purpose through those details.
A family from church came and brought us dinner even though he had no injuries. The wife sat and talked with me about how thankful she was that his life was spared and her husband went and mourned the wreckage of a car he’d been working on since the age of 15 – a car his father gave him. Another man from church brought Tylenol, cookies, and ice cream for the kids. The pastor asked how he was several times throughout the week and talked with him about what it might mean in the grand scheme.
A friend told me just the other day that the gym is her church. I know why without her saying it. The people there love her, encourage her, teach her, and help her. That is what feels most like family, especially to those who have no family.
When I file these realities next to what we’ve been discussing in church about questions like, “Why should we even go to church?” and “Why not stay at home and be a lone Christian?” I find the answer is crystal clear. It is not that we cannot make it though life alone. It is not even that we cannot be a Christian alone. We can and we can. What we cannot do is smile and laugh through the pain that life inevitably brings to each and every one of us. Without encouragement, togetherness, help, and, yes, others whose main task from the Master is to cheer for us and we for they, life does not work as well. The one-anothering theme is unmitigated throughout the entire New Testament and the focus on doing life in community is littered through the entire Bible.
Getting out of the leave me alone zone is crucial for Christian people. Whether it is sharing our struggles, confessing our sins, or inviting others into our every day lives, we need one another. This is how we glory God. We must learn to encourage as well as or better than the world does with its own. When the “family” that the gym has created among its members looks, feels, and sometimes even proves more attractive than the church family, we are missing the mark. If you are a Christian, get out of the leave me alone zone. Go to church. Get involved. Invest in others’ lives. Serve them. Listen to them. Encourage them. Love them. Tell them a silly story when they hurt. Remind them you are glad that they are alive. Bring Tylenol and cookies. Ask how they are and contemplate the possibility of intergalactic purpose.
Life is an intense activity. Get in the zone and run with endurance the race the Master has marked out for you.