It’s hard to explain my views on religion.

I have been getting question from other runners about what I believe and the spiritual link to running that I’ve hinted at in previous posts. I have been hesitant to respond to these inquiries individually because I feel it’s something that requires a thorough response. So I will do my best to explain my position here.

MY RELIGIOUS BACKGROUND & HISTORY

My parents converted to Christianity soon after they arrived in Canada. I was very young. My dad began seminary almost immediately and by the time I was entering my teen years, he had started his own Spanish-speaking congregation.

Growing up, I was never shielded from the darker side of church life – the politics, the in-fighting, the greed, the rumors. However, church was my only social outlet. My dad was extremely overprotective so I wasn’t allowed to have any friends or social experiences outside of the church walls. I became quite introverted and very socially awkward, but I did love church.

Later in my teen years (around 17 and 18) my dad slowly stopped hitting me as a form of punishment, and he struggled to find something else to use instead. At that point – because I had literally no other life – he started taking away my church activities. When my youth group leaders complained, my dad would become enraged and “punished” me even more. This is how I started to wean myself off of church.

After I got divorced the church backlash was intense, and I felt driven out. That’s when I started seeing for the first time what God looked like outside of the church walls.

I experienced love and acceptance and forgiveness from those I had always been taught to condemn. I learned that there is some holiness in the worst of us, and some evil in the best of us.

I saw the most ungodly people reach out a hand to help me, with no thought to themselves. And I saw the most revered spiritual leaders consumed by hatred. I learned that the world wasn’t black and white, so I learned to have patience. And compassion.

When I started trying to find a church again, it was a different world. I was no longer on the inside, a part of the clique. I was a visitor. An outsider.

I walked into a dozen churches and filled out all their little welcome cards. I gave away all my numbers and addresses and checked all the contact boxes. Nobody ever called from anywhere. So I sent some emails and left some messages – still no responses.

At one of these churches I sat near the back and watched the ushers turn away another visitor walking in off the street because he wasn’t dressed up. And that’s when I knew – this wasn’t an institution I could be a part of in its current state.

MY BELIEFS

When I read the Bible, and when I experience God, I see none of the above. I know there is a God of mercy and love who is hurt by the state of His people – so far gone from the nature of the church that he established in the book of Acts.

The Bible defines church as a gathering of people who love God. No buildings for which rent must be paid. No sermons begging for money. No locked doors and no strangers. In Acts, the church was just a bunch of people who went around sharing everything they had with others. It was that simple.

There have been several points in my life where I have examined my faith carefully – is it something I believe just because I was brought up that way? Or do I really BELIEVE it?

And I do believe.

I believe there’s a God and I believe that he loves me and that he hasn’t forgotten about me. I believe that He knows I belong to him, even though others take it as a topic up for debate.

I believe that I’m unique. That He didn’t make anyone else like me, so if I screw up what He has planned for my life, no one else is going to come along and do my job.

I don’t want to screw up.

I believe that He was there for me in my darkest moments and helped me pull through. I believe that He has a purpose for everything I’ve gone through, even if I can’t understand it yet. I believe that every one of my struggles represents a responsibility to help others in similar situations. And I know I love Him.

True religion (as is clearly described in Isaiah 58) is not reflected in the current state of the church. True Christianity is about fighting for justice. And not being afraid.

It’s about being willing to give away all that you own. Loving others more than you love yourself. Feeling their pain in your heart. Protecting those who cannot protect themselves. And sharing the weight of burdens that are not your own.

RUNNING AND GOD

I find it ironic that the long runs on many running plans are scheduled for Sunday mornings, making it virtually impossible for any runner to attend a church. But is this really such a bad thing?

When I run, I feel infinitely closer to God than I do sitting in a pew. I can be surrounded by His creation. I can think about Him instead of what others are doing and thinking. When I’m in a church, it feels like my soul is slowly dying. When I run, it feels renewed.

I’ve thought about how great it would be to share weekly Sunday morning runs with like-minded people. Maybe runners who don’t fit in at a conventional church either, or who tried the church thing and it didn’t work out. We could run and talk about God – share our lives the way the early church did. Nothing formal. Nothing churchy. Just running and nature and God.

On that note…

If there are any runners in the Greater Toronto Area who want to join me for a Sunday morning run, I’m always here. You don’t have to be a Christian. You don’t even have to run that far. Whatever your physical or spiritual state, you’re more than welcome to run with me.

vanessaruns@gmail.com