Running Alone

Today’s post is by Jeff Nelson

Ever since I was in seminary (close to 15 years ago), I’ve tried to maintain a regular workout regimen.

For most of this stretch, I have refused to exercise around other people. The times when I’ve done so have made me self-conscious, and I convinced myself it would be better for me to find ways to do this on my own, out of the public and (in my mind) judgmental eye.

Fortunately for me, we had an elliptical machine in our basement that I was able to make use of, and this along with occasional runs around our neighborhood satisfied my need to exercise and my desire to not be around others while I did it.

After our elliptical finally bit the dust, I begrudgingly decided to make greater use of our YMCA membership. And, of course, I quickly realized that it was no big deal and nobody was actually looking at me. In fact, I’ve always witnessed nothing but encouragement and friendly conversation rather than judgment or scorn.

In the past month we picked up both a treadmill and elliptical machine being sold by a friend. Yet I’ve been traveling to the Y for so long that being alone in my basement now seems to make exercising difficult. It turns out that I’ve come to rely on the open air of a public place and the presence of others, even if we’re not interacting that much, as part of what I need for my own fitness and well-being.

I think we too often conceptualize spiritual practice as a solitary endeavor; a journey so individualized to each person based on factors like experience and personal preference that it is best traveled alone. To a degree, that is true. We are each seeking how God is manifest in our own lives and circumstances and where the next bend on the path may take us.

However, this thought brings the temptation to neglect how we may benefit from being in community, where we may enjoy encouragement from others, and even the mere presence of fellow travelers who are after some of the same goals of understanding and growth. Being with other pilgrims brings communal interpretation, where we may share our experiences with others who may tell us what they hear, giving us greater insight to see ourselves in new ways.

Praying—or running—alone in our basement doesn’t allow for that. And such isolation robs us of what others can help us know.

August 08, 2017 by Jeff Nelson 2 Comments
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Elizabeth Tuckermanty
Elizabeth Tuckermanty
6 years ago

I found this to be true among my oft times skeptical scientist colleagues. Six of us through casual conversations discovered each others’ spiritual paths. Soon there were 6 of us meditating/praying in an office together in community instead of separately. We also were spared the cynical conversations around the usual lunch table.

Carol Stiver
Carol Stiver
6 years ago

Thanks, I needed to hear this. Carol S.


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