I should never have run a half marathon.
By “should never have” I mean that it certainly wasn’t a planned chapter in the story of my life.
What do I mean by that? Let me flash you back 37 years ago to a small elementary school playground in rural West Virginia. One of the rites of passage in any elementary school is recess, and the inevitable dividing up into teams. The scene has played itself out thousands of times: the two best sports kids in the class appoint themselves as the captains of the playground, and then one by one they start choosing their players, like opposing generals choosing their warriors. Who gets picked first, and who gets picked last, is for all to see.
In your mind’s eye you can see the characters: the tall kids, the fat kids, the bullies, the prissy girls, the tomboys. Off to the side is the runt, the shortest boy in the class, head cast down, sneezing, eyes half hidden with heavy glasses. Boys get picked first, of course, so he waits as the names get called out: “I’ll take Greg” “I’ve got Frank” “Get over here Darrell.” He waits until he is the last boy not picked, standing among a sea of girls.
And then the captains start calling out girl’s names.
There can be few scenes that shape a young boy’s view of himself more than having girls picked ahead of him on an elementary school playground.
And yes, that boy was me.
Scenes like that wrote my story, throughout my childhood. I see flashes of them as tears come to my face: volunteering to be the umpire of recess softball games so I wouldn’t have to suffer the indignity of not being picked, being the only kid unable to do a pull-up, never even trying out for a sports team in a school where athletics was the only thing that counted.
You see, we all write stories for ourselves, not down on paper, but deep in our hearts. The events of our childhoods shape our image of ourselves, who we are, who other people are, what kind of world we live in and our place in it. Although I did not know it, my childhood heart wrote a story for me, that I was a brain, but not a body, that I could be smart but never strong.
I can remember one of my favorite books as a child: a biography of Theodore Roosevelt. It told about his childhood, how he too was a brainy runt, weak, crippled with asthma, but how his iron will overcame the limitations of his body, and he became the most fiercely masculine President to ever sit in the Oval Office.
But my heart had already written its story: I was weak, and I was never going to be strong. Not even a President’s inspiration would be able to convince my heart otherwise.
My story grew up with me, shying me away from pursuing sports or athletics for decades. When I did try, my story was always there, ready to tell me its version of the truth about me. I can remember learning how to ski, and going down a slope that was too challenging for me, and falling down over and over. Although I didn’t realize what it was, the voice was there, whispering in my ear, “You can’t do this. You’re not an athlete. You’re just not strong enough.” I felt like a total failure, completely disheartened.
It was the last time I ever tried to ski. That was the power of my story.
The stories we write in our hearts as children are strong. They create paths for our lives, much more so than we realize. They help determine what type of job we pursue, whether we go to college, what type of people we look for in a relationship, how we react to storms in our lives, and how we approach God. Our stories guide our lives and even become our lives.
Even though their voice is powerful, it is usually hidden, behind the scenes, under the radar. We usually don’t even know they exist, and yet they are there 24/7, whispering in our ears: “You can’t ask your boss for a promotion, people never respect you.” “He’s more attracted to her than you, men don’t think you’re pretty.” “You just can’t trust people, they will let you down.” or in my case “You’re not an athlete, don’t waste your time & get hurt by even trying.”
Although a story’s influence on your life is strong, you don’t have to be a slave to it. You are free to write a new story whenever you take the courage to do so.
A few years ago I started writing a new story in regards to my body & sports. I decided to run in a local 5K race. Now, to some of you that might not sound like much, but to me it was like deciding to climb Mount Everest. I had my story of not being athletic ingrained deeply within my subconscious and I had never competed in any type of athletic race EVER. I was filled with doubt and fear, strong emotions to contend when venturing into completely new territory. That’s what stories do to us: they play tricks on our minds, guiding us away from choices we might otherwise make, and they play tricks on our hearts, making us feel strong emotions when we try to stray from the path that they have picked for us to follow.
But with the assistance of some of the lessons highlighted in the chapters that follow, I did it. I rewrote my story, and accomplished something that I would have never dreamed as a boy, a teen, or even as a forty year old: I competed in an athletic event with hundreds of other people.
Crossing the finish line of that first 5K was truly an incredible experience for me. But it was so much more than just an experience. I had changed my story and proved that I was not the weak runt that my heart had told me for decades that I was. Because I had a new story, I was a new man. I literally had a new life & a new future.
The principle: Change your story, change your life.
Once you break the power of a limiting story in your life you have freedom. For me the freedom was to pursue longer races until I decided in 2010 to train for a half marathon. The wounds of my childhood, even though I still feel them from time to time, no longer control me.
What about you? Have you ever stopped to consider what holds you back? What story is keeping you on the sidelines, in the shadows?
Step back and think about what you assume about yourself, about your place in the world. What are the things you just know you can’t accomplish? Why do you feel that way?
Ask someone who really believes the best about you, “What do you think I can do? How am I holding back? Where do you see me going in the future? Who do you see me to be?”
Ask God the same questions in prayer. He delights in rewriting stories. Think about the condemned prisoner Joseph who became regent of Egypt, the shepherd boy David who became king, the fisherman Peter who became the great apostle. Let the words of Paul in Colossians 1:16 become more than words to you:
I can do all things through Christ who strengthens me.
“All things.” What thing does Christ want to strengthen you to do? Could it be a role in a story that you don’t even believe you can be in?
Dare to change your story. Dare to change your life.