“Want to try a little experiment?” Paul said. “Take this package.”
It was about the size of a big brick, wrapped with grey duct tape.
Tim took it. The handoff was a little awkward because the two men were running. “That’s not too heavy,” Tim said. “About five pounds?”
“Good guess,” Paul said. He shook his head when Tim tried to hand it back. “I want you to carry it a bit.”
They ran, talking about their activities from the previous weekend. “I got more sleep than last weekend,” Tim said. “It helped to not have any more weddings, but it also helped to actually turn stuff off and crawl in bed.”
Paul nodded. “I’ve realized that I need to start to bed a little earlier than I think I should. It always takes longer than I think it will to get the coffee ready, to pick stuff out for the next day, to finish up. And I need to leave time, on purpose, for my examen.”
“Is that a medical thing?” Tim laughed.
“It’s a review of my day that I have with God,” Paul said. “I’ll tell you more about it sometime if you are interested.”
“I’ll try to remember,” Tim said. “But at the moment, I’m thinking mostly about this weight. Is there a reason I’m carrying it? Is it to make me stronger?”
“It’s possible to get stronger by carrying the weight,” Paul said. “But for runners, strength training often happens while we are not running. This time, I wanted to help you understand something about the challenge of weight. If you are planning to run a long distance, wouldn’t you want to have as little unnecessary weight as possible?”
Tim nodded. “I’d love to have less weight right now, whatever distance I’m running.”
Paul reached out for the package. “So stop for a minute. What do you think is in this package?”
“I think it’s flour,” Tim said. “In the old days when sugar came in five-pound packages, it would be a tossup.”
“It is flour,” Paul said. “Plain ordinary flour. Is there anything morally wrong about this bag of flour that I asked you to carry? Is it illegal to have flour?”
Tim smiled. “Unless you are intending to feed the flour to someone who is gluten intolerant, flour is pretty benign. To be safe, you could have given me corn meal.”
“I wanted something less expensive for this lesson,” Paul said. “Because it is a lesson. An ancient writer was using running as a metaphor for spiritual living. He or she said to put off the stuff that weighs you down and the sin that trips you up and run with endurance.
“In running, we have stuff like that flour. It’s not wrong, it’s not evil, it can be quite good as pancakes or tortillas. But we usually know to put it down. But there can also be body weight. If we eat in a way that just fuels the running throughout our week, we’ll end up with less weight to carry. You saw how just five pounds is a lot.”
Tim nodded. “I remember how much harder running was on my knees thirty pounds ago.”
“And you carried the flour because I asked you to,” Paul said. “Let’s start running again. Think about how often you carry stuff because other people ask you to. You carry obligations, you carry busyness, you carry their work. You can, in the course of a week, add a lot of weight to your life. And that can shape your running. You feel pressure to finish training runs because of the time running takes.”
Tim laughed. “There are times when I’m out running that I feel my whole body tighten up when I start thinking about the tasks on my todo list. You could tell that standing was making me nervous, couldn’t you.”
“That’s why we’re going to wait to talk about the sin part,” Paul said. “But I’m guessing that you’ll be thinking about eliminating weight for the rest of your run.”
“I am,” Tim said. “And I’ll be wondering what you are going to do with that flour. Save it for the next person you are coaching?”
“What a waste,” Paul said. “What if no one else needs this particular coaching? I’m going home for breakfast. After the workout carrying the weight, I’m ready for pancakes.”