by Peter Coleman
“I believe God made me for a purpose, but he also made me fast. And when I run, I feel His pleasure.” –Eric Liddell
To our knowledge, Eric Liddell never actually spoke these words. They were written for the 1981 film Chariots of Fire. But I think they are a fair representation of a man who knew his calling and his Creator. Liddell’s world record and Olympic Gold win in 1924 are well known and even immortalized some places. But often less revered, is that he was born to missionaries in China, where he returned a missionary himself. He died there in an internment camp during World War II. Eric knew running was not his highest purpose and walked away from fame and glory to serve in China, bringing good news to the poor.
I am nowhere near as accomplished or talented as Liddell on the track. Though, I did chose to leave behind an encouraging running career to follow the Lord after high school. At that time, through the action of the Holy Spirit in my life, I realized that my purpose was not inevitably those things I was particularly skilled or good at doing. Neither was it necessarily the things which could gain me or God’s Kingdom recognition and good reputation. Nonetheless, I found running exhilarating. As I’ve grown in friendship with Christ, I believe I have come to experience His pleasure when I run.
To feel someone’s pleasure is more than simply a realization of another’s happiness or mental state. It’s also different from feeling the same thing at the same time. After all, two people can be experiencing sorrow at the same time, even in the same place and time, but not be sharing each other’s sorrow. To feel someone’s pleasure describes a communion, where I experience your experience in me. I feel your pleasure in me.
We’ve all experienced moments of communion like this and it requires some degree of friendship. We may be able to sympathize or empathize with the least of God’s people, but to be able to share in their interior experience with them requires interior knowledge. And once we have shared interior knowledge, moments where we feel each other’s pleasure or pain serve to deepen the relationship. I am convinced it is no different with Jesus; we are invited to share in the divine nature.
All of us do things which bring our Father immense pleasure. I am sure He is delighted by the unique existence of each of us, and even more delighted by each of us in action. For me, the Race for Vocations has been an opportunity to share in His pleasure. I challenge us to look for what we can do, not only for our Father, but with our Father that we may come to know Him better and share in his pleasures and pains the way he desires to share in ours.
Now, I realize few people feel any pleasure, let alone the Lord’s pleasure, when running. Allow me to give you an encouragement. Often, Scripture likens our Christian journey to a race:
“Have you not learned anything from the stadium? Many run, but only one gets the prize. Run, therefore, intending to win it, as athletes who impose upon themselves a rigorous discipline.” -1 Corinthians 9:24-25
“I have fought the good fight, I have finished the race, I have kept the faith.” -2 Timothy 4:7
The saints realized many years ago that physical discipline can yield spiritual fruit. This is the principle of fasting; our physical hunger sharpens our desire to love and serve God. We forego food to affirm that man does not live on bread alone, but by every Word from the mouth of God.
Because training for a race is a decision, much like the decision to follow Christ, which needs to be reaffirmed every day I have experienced it as an opportunity to beat my flesh into submission. In undertaking the physical discipline of training I find I am equipped to cultivate spiritual fruit. I gain daily practice in denying my flesh, which I find better prepares me to empty myself and offer myself as a holy and living sacrifice.
Pope Francis recently wrote in the Apostolic Exhortation Evangelii Gaudium, addressed to “all Christians everywhere” that “All of us are asked to obey his [the Lord’s] call to go forth from our own comfort zone in order to reach all the ‘peripheries’ in need of the light of the Gospel.” We are each called to bring Jesus to those around, called to leave our comfort zone and proclaim “Christ is King!” While we pray for vocations, let us respond to this preeminent calling fromour Heavenly Father and work with Him to shine the light of Christ which dwells in us. Whether to China or Indianapolis, let us run with perseverance the race marked out for us that, having competed we may not be disqualified from the prize.
Peter Coleman is a member of St. John’s Parish. He will graduate from IUPUI this May with a degree in Chemistry and set to begin Medical School at IU in Indianapolis next fall. He took two years off in the middle of college to do street evangelism and mission work in Evansville, IN with the People of Praise, an ecumenical community of which he is a member. He ran his first Indianapolis 500 Festival Mini-marathon last year as a member of the Race for Vocations Team and finished in the 500 Club.