Benched for Lent

photo credit: Mahall's via photopin (license)

photo credit: Mahall’s via photopin (license)

A funny thing happens when you are playing soccer – you see the game almost in slow motion. I was playing as a forward for one of the first times during a game in my junior year of high school (I was usually a mid fielder). I was running toward the goal and everything seemed to be moving slowly, although I knew by the sounds of my breath that I was in a full sprint. Back then I was fast. I can only say that because, as I look back, I realize that most of my athletic success came from my ability to outrun other people. I was excited to pass the defenders and was making my way straight toward the goal unchallenged. I had my eyes locked on the goal and just where I was going to kick the ball. During practice I kicked the ball right at the Goalie too many times. Not this time. I was going to score. I think in the back of my head I was already picturing the celebration. Needless to say, I was taken off guard when the next thing I knew I was no longer moving forward but slumped on the ground, with my knee hyper-extended from the goalie slide-tackling me. My body kept going toward the goal while my knee was forced backwards. Ouch. I screamed. I didn’t even cry – I just screamed. My poor coach was a young male coach who sometimes didn’t know what to do with our team. We were one of the best teams in the state, and he was a fantastic coach, but we sometimes took advantage of the fact that he had never coached girls. We would play the “it’s that time of the month” card regularly to avoid running. You can imagine he didn’t know what to do with tears, and he certainly didn’t know what to do with a player screaming in pain. He ran onto the field and picked me up, running with me yelling that I needed a trainer. I ended up having surgery and finished the rest of that season on the bench. I hated it. Nothing feels worse than watching other people play a game you love. Nothing feels worse than being someone who is active and told that you have to wait and slow down.
Today I am realizing I feel this way again. I feel grounded. I feel benched. I don’t play soccer that often anymore, but I do still love to run. I stopped sprinting and started running long distances a couple years ago. I ran my first half marathon last year and loved it. This year I was looking forward to several races and lots of fun runs. Training was going well until a couple months ago, when I noticed my hip felt sore after a long run. About a month later, I was jumping rope while cross-training, and I fell to the ground in pain, my calf spasming. After several visits with a physical therapist, it became clear that whatever was happening in my hip was affecting my calf. I spent time trying to rehab it, but no matter what I did, I wasn’t able to get it to feel right. I had to take ten days off of running while I was touring in Israel. It was good timing because I was walking over 6 miles a day. Once I got back from my trip, I looked forward to lacing up my shoes and getting back to my personal therapy and prayer time… running. None of my runs were comfortable, but I was able to push through… until yesterday. I laced up the shoes between meetings and was looking forward to some serious thinking time. Just as I began mile three, my hip became so painful that I didn’t know how I was going to make it back to the car. I went to the doctor and was given the news you never want to hear as a runner: you are benched. She thinks I have tendinitis, and the only way it will get better is through taking anti-inflammatories and resting… Resting… I hate resting…
I think that is why Lent can be hard for me. Lent is a time of slowing down and reflection, of seeing the world in slow motion; and I avoid it by making myself busy. All pastors are good at that – we have activities every night of the week during Holy season. We do so with the excuse that we are making Lent happen for other people. Slowing down and trying to strip away activities during the holy season of lent seems just as counterintuitive as stopping running in order to be a better runner, and yet… what if slowing down and sitting on the bench are the only ways that I can learn the lessons of Lent? I have friends who attend church but don’t celebrate Lent or go through the work of Good Friday. Easter seems to me like a big celebration without the tension of why we celebrate, which is Lent. I want to learn these lessons, but I don’t want to take the time to do it. I want it to come easy. I want to be able to maintain my schedule and do the work of Lenten reflection; but it doesn’t work that way. Just like healing my leg means slowing down, I have to slow down to speed up. Maybe this is my lesson for this year’s Lent: I am benched for a reason. Now let’s just hope I learn my lesson.

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