The other day I was running and it sucked. I ran around this one-mile loop three times, just like I usually do. There is this one place on the loop where there are two monster hills, one right after the other. I dread going up them every time because I’m from Florida and I’m used to running on the flattest ground you could think of.
When I was in college, I ran a half-marathon. This was a huge accomplishment for me, because I’ve never been a super awesome runner, and never really enjoyed it very much. I remember when I was in elementary school, we would do these timed runs, and I would always get tired and my lungs would hurt from breathing and by the end of it my whole face was red and I felt like I was going to vomit. It was horrible. My outlook now is a little more positive, but I often still struggle with just getting out there because I know it’s going to be a battle. I find that the things I struggle with when I’m running are the same things I struggle with daily in my spiritual life.
I remember the first time I ran seven miles. Okay, actually it was the only time I ran seven miles. Earlier that day, I had met with my spiritual advisor. One of the things we talked about was running. I remember telling him that I wasn’t sure if I was going to be able to run this half-marathon. I had all of these doubts in my mind. Like, “what if I get halfway and then I can’t keep going?” or “what if I pass out in the middle and no one notices because they’re all trying so hard to keep running?” or “What if I trip and break my ankle?” But my spiritual advisor just encouraged me and kept telling me that he knew that I could do it. So that night I decided that I was at least going to get out there and run the seven miles that I was supposed to run in order to keep training. I set out knowing that my body could do it, and knowing that the only problem I would have would be in my own head. I felt as if someone was whispering in my ear, “You can’t really do this. This is too difficult. If this is how hard it is now, how can you even think about running thirteen miles?” But I knew that if I kept running, I would be conquering a huge spiritual battle against my own doubts and fears and feelings of inadequacy, not just seven miles of road. I remember praying the whole entire time. At one point, when I was really struggling, I started naming all the saints I could think of in my head and asking them to pray for me. I even imagined that they were all running around me, and that they were packed in so tightly that the force of their running kept me going. When I finished those seven miles, I felt incredible.
That day wasn’t just about running for me; it was about every time that I doubt my own abilities, or doubt what God can really do in me. It’s so easy for me, in my spiritual life, and really in everything, to compare myself to others. I tend to think easily of other people’s strengths and of my own weaknesses. I tend to hear and believe a lot of the devil’s lies: “You are not good enough for this,” or, “You are not really worthy of God’s love,” or “Do you really think you are capable of being a missionary?” But all of these things are just lies, and sometimes it just takes persistence, and prayer, and the help of the saints in order to conquer these things. The other day I was praying and just really struggling with feeling inadequate and I felt as if the Lord was reminding me, “Sara, I chose you.” I remembered the story of the one little lamb who wandered off, and Jesus left the other ninety-nine in order to find him. It struck me that Jesus wasn’t satisfied with just ninety-nine other faithful, awesome sheep. He wanted that one little one so badly that he left all the others to go find a weak, little, broken, wandering lamb. In that moment, while I was sitting in the chapel feeling so inadequate, I felt like that one little lamb, the weakest, the one who had wandered off and probably gotten hurt somewhere along the way. But I knew then that Jesus had chosen me. He had come to find me, because for some reason He wants even the weakest, smallest, most inadequate of us.
I am often comforted by the words of St. Paul, that “When I am weak, then I am strong.” (2 Cor. 12:10). I know then that if I am the weakest and the smallest, then it is the Lord who can be strong in me, maybe even stronger because He can fill my inadequacies with His grace. And so the deeper and stronger my inadequacies are, the deeper and stronger is His grace in me, the more and more He can work if I allow Him to, if I truly have the faith to believe.