I hate the phrase “there are two kinds of people in the world.” I have never found that to be accurate, especially as someone who falls in between on most of the dichotomies that follow that brief and absolute introduction. Miracle Whip or mayo? I eat mayo more often, but I don’t hate Miracle Whip. My affinity for PC over Mac stems more from my being raised at home using a PC and from my conditioning to associate black turtlenecks with super villains than my actual understanding of the differences in their specs.
But of all the “there are two types of people” pair-ups, I’ve found the most disparity in conversation over the topic of running. When you tell someone you went running, you’ll typically garner a response of “how’d it go/how far?” or “ugh, why would you do that to yourself?” because apparently what is refreshment to some is masochism to others.
I’ve been the former for most of my life. I’ve never really knuckled down and honed my running, though I’ve flirted with the idea more than once. But even when it’s a one-off jog motivated by my finding myself on the sixth episode of The X-Files in a row, covered in snack crumbs and using my own tummy as a stand for my now empty bowl of ramen, I enjoy the practice of it. I haven’t done it enough to try and convince you if you’re in the non-running camp. I’m not that eloquent about it, it’s just a simple thing for me: I like running.
I also used to like the idea of running away a lot. There was a period in my life, shortly after we moved to the house my parents now live in, where I would try and run away nearly on a weekly basis. I even had a go-bag:
- Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles backpack
- Handful of Nutri-Grain bars (apple)
- Marvel Age: Spider-Man #1 (being a first issue, I could use this to barter and trade down the line), in addition to a half dozen other favorite comics for entertainment
- Two extra pairs of socks
- Three extra pairs of underwear
- A windbreaker
- A flashlight
- A pocket knife (for protection, whittling, and hunting)
And out of this bag, I would forge my new life, independent, self-sufficient, free of the suffocating lines that bound me to my parents’ authority. I’d sling it over my shoulders and I’d run.
For about ten, maybe fifteen, minutes. And, once the rush of my legs carrying me forward and the wind chasing past my cheeks faded in my need to catch my breath, I’d turn back, walk through my door, toss my bag back by my bed, and join my family for dinner.
It’s a familiar image to anyone who’s read a book or watched anything on TV in the past half a century.
A child experiences the death of the romanticism of running away from home. And we all nod and say “that’s about right,” and we appreciate the lives we have and the people in them.
So why, then, do we still spend so much of our time and energy running away?
Several of my professors at ACU put this idea in front of us when discussing ministry in the midst of pain, specifically in a hospital context: Where you position yourself in the room reflects where you believe God is in the situation.
That principle is to say that, even though it’s uncomfortable, and you’re going to lean toward keeping your distance, don’t. Because God is not keeping distance between Godself and the person in need, pain, etc. God is right there in the midst of it. So it is our calling and challenge to do the same.
Now, that can be a challenge in and of itself: when was the last time I went to a hospital at all, let alone for the purpose of practicing presence and being an agent of God’s peace for the sake of others? I can’t even remember.
But I think the challenge stretches even beyond that.
I think the challenge is in our staying put. Our not leaving.
Ours is a world of escapism, filled with escapists. If we don’t like something, we don’t have to have it as a part of our lives. If we disagree with someone or are offended by something they say or do, we can unfollow them on Twitter or Facebook or Insta and never have to worry about them or the friction they bring to our lives ever again.
The fact is, it’s not just with strangers or inconveniences that we feel this impulse. Actually, it may be more frequently that we feel it with the ones we’re closest to. And perhaps that is even more dangerous, because we can runaway from them for a while with the guarantee that there will still be an unlocked door, a place to store our Ninja Turtle backpacks, and a hot meal we can eat when we come back.
Just as popular as the image of the child slinging a bindle over their shoulder and running away from home in “Hollywood” is the image of the mid-argument storm out. Two people are screaming, shrieking at each other, and finally one of them flings their arms in the air, throws the door open, and slams it behind them, often uttering one final cutting remark that will really make the other person think about what they did.
And this has become the way that we handle tension in our relationships.
We fight. We yell.
And then we run.
I’ve had this experience more than once, especially in the conversations Mackenzie and I shared leading up to our marriage. We can and will talk more about that whole process some other time, but the fact is that it is full of hard conversations that make a person think and assess their own character and consider what’s important to them. It’s full of frustration and tension.
I’ve experienced it in that context and in the context of talking with family and friends and roommates alike. I’m sure you have, too.
And often we’ll frame it as a good thing, too. It can be. We’ll say we’re “giving each other space,” but something about that just seems dissatisfying. So often that becomes a matter of self-preservation, and last I checked, love isn’t born out of self-preservation, but self-sacrifice.
Choosing to stay and sit in the boiling silence of tension, conflict, and fragility of another person is the hard work of love.
More than that, it challenges us to live what we claim to believe and trust in: that God is present and near to us in all circumstances.
If we believe that God is near us when we are in pain, when we are hurting, when there is tension, and when we are most volatile and most fragile, we must be a people who plant our feet and choose presence over escapism. The reign of storming out in exasperation, of abandoning a situation because it’s “too much” for us, cannot be the one that we are subject to.
Instead, may we be subject to the presence of God. The presence of God that tests our patience with one another and ourselves, that gives way to long silences, tears, and open hearts.
Oftentimes it hurts. But it is worth it. Because I am convinced that that practice, the practice of choosing to stay when you could run, draws us closer to the heart of God.
So don’t leave. Stay. Get closer. And in that way, tell one another exactly where we believe the God of love, hurt, and presence is right here, right now.