Spiritual Sprints #4: gaze

noun – a steady intent look

The view from my evening run.

The view from my evening run.

Here in Sucúa, Ecuador, there are no well-maintained sidewalks or streets. A hole in the road – the size a small child could disappear through – is a typical occurrence. If you don’t keep your eye on the path directly in front of you, it’s a life-or-broken-leg kind of situation.   So on my morning runs, I often run with a downward focus, observant only of the steps immediately in front of me.

Any runner’s magazine will tell you that running head up, taking in the entire path that stretches out before you is the proper runner’s stance. In fact an online Runner’s World magazine article entitled “The Perfect Form: Running Better From Head to Toe,” says this,

How you hold your head is key to overall posture, which determines how efficiently you run. Let your gaze guide you. Look ahead naturally, not down at your feet, and scan the horizon. This will straighten your neck and back, and bring them into alignment.

On my last run, I fought the gaze battle. Since I normally run about the same path, I can feel confident about avoiding Gringo Traps. Even with that understanding, it’s hard to keep my head up and “let my gaze guide” me. I noticed that while looking down, I focused on the rhythm of my feet and the short distance I traveled with each stride. However, when I looked up, I saw the finish line (or my next checkpoint). I saw the gloriously proud mountains peaks covered in jungle mist. I noticed greenery that stretched for miles and ginger-red mud lining secret paths that jutted off my own route. I nodded hello to my fellow runners as we passed on the trail. With an upward gaze, I experienced the run in a whole new way.

This upward gaze advice is something I am applying to my spiritual life as well. Every time I read the Runner’s World quote above, I laugh at just how true it is for those of us running after God.

  • How you hold your head is key: A head down is a sign of defeat, shame, or sadness. My Christian life is none of those, so why do I so often live with my head down during a difficult life situation?  Just look at Psalms 3 NIV: “But you, Lord, are a shield around me, my glory, the One who lifts my head high.” Even when I can’t hold my own head high, God is there to do it for me  – to encourage and strengthen me.
  • Let your gaze guide you: Earlier I mentioned how looking down kept me focus on the pounding of feet and short stride. Focusing on these made the route seem long, unattainable, and painful. Changing that gaze to looking up and out at the horizon, to the beauty of the world around me, I realize that the Creator of these is ACTIVE in my life. His power and love for me enables me to go beyond any distance for which I’ve trained. Check out how 2 Corinthians 4: 16-18 (MSG) speaks to this:

So we’re not giving up. How could we! Even though on the outside it often looks like things are falling apart on us, on the inside, where God is making new life, not a day goes by without his unfolding grace. These hard times are small potatoes compared to the coming good times, the lavish celebration prepared for  us. There’s far more here than meets the eye. The things we see now are here today, gone tomorrow. But the things we can’t see now will last forever.

  • This will straighten your neck and back bring them into alignment.  Running the spiritual race with our face upward and standing tall, brings us into alignment with God’s plan.  Our view is not diminished, and we learn to look at life from the Big Picture Point of View just like God sees it.  Running with an upward gaze gives us the eyes of Christ. We can see those fellow runners who need encouragement. We can see the beauty of the path before us and its surrounding grandeur. We can run with free hearts knowing that each step keeps us in pace with God’s will. Let’s take a note from Paul who had this “running” thing down:

I’m not saying that I have this all together, that I have it made. But I am well on my way, reaching out for Christ, who has so wondrously reached out for me. Friends, don’t get me wrong: By no means do I count myself an expert in all of this, but I’ve got my eye on the goal, where God is beckoning us onward—to Jesus. I’m off and running, and I’m not turning back. (Phil 3:12 MSG)

I’m like Paul.  I don’t believe I have this running thing all together – physically or spiritually. However, each day, I show up and I run. That’s what counts. I don’t always keep my gaze where it should be, but with each run, I’m learning to set my focus upward and see with the eyes of Christ. On days when it’s tough keeping my head up, I call on Him who is the “lifter of my head.” I  pound out the miles knowing that what I can’t see are the tiny details of my life working out just as God planned. Running with my gaze up means when I cross the finish line, he will say, well done my good and faithful “runner.”