On Running and the Poverty of the Affluent

In this perpendicular season, one thing I am trying to do is run.  I have been running for 10 years now. 10 years, 8 half marathons, 1 full marathon, and countless pairs of shoes.

I originally started to run because I had gotten to college and stopped being an athlete for the first time in my life.  I lived by the beach, in a place with nearly perfect weather, and it only cost me the shoes.  So I started to run, and lo and behold not only did I lose my freshman 15, I found myself reflecting on my life, a practice I rarely made time for.  A friend often kept me company, and he and I are mainly close today because of the time we spent together then.

When I was introduced to the framework of the 4 types of poverty in When Helping Hurts, it changed my thinking permanently.   It humbled me, and gave me words for the ways that service should be mutual and reciprocal, something I had felt for a while but had not managed to articulate.

when helping hurts

But at the same time, I felt like I did not have many opportunities to live this out.  My day to day life is largely insulated.

Even if I accept my own poverty, how do I go about healing amidst the realities of my ordinary life?

In affluent contexts, where material poverty is less of a visible issue, the other arenas are still at play.  There is first world poverty all around us.  You see it in Botox and gated communities, in credit card debt and the fact that we do not know our neighbors. It’s in the way that food links with shame and our bodies seems to be our enemies.  It’s in our loneliness, the way that even when we have friends we often feel like few people really know us and really accept us as we are.

Poverty of self tends to go one of two ways in an affluent culture.  We may have a highly inflated view of ourselves–we are so important.  Rich.  Powerful.  In a hurry.  On the other hand, we may have a highly ashamed view–we are not good enough.  Thin enough.  Rich enough. Worth enough.  These are not the only two forms it takes, but they’re common.

Poverty of relationship is not just about whether we have some friends or not.  It’s about whether we are known and loved for who we really are, by at least a few people.  It’s also about our ability to see value in others as people created and loved by God.

We are all impoverished in one way or another.

But God is about the business of mending what has broken within us and between us.  For some people, God does that through running.

Eric Liddle famously expressed how when he ran, he felt God’s pleasure.  For some, when they run, they experience God’s healing.  God can address some of their first world poverty with each mile they log.

Of self.  When we run, we might hear God say, You’re worth taking care of.  I formed your body, I designed your knee to bend, your lungs to expand.  We might also hear, You are a creature, not the creator.  You are finite and frail, only I am infinite   And you know it’s true.  Hips don’t lie. And yours hurt.

Of creation.  If we run outdoors, there’s a chance to hear God say, See these trees?  I made them.  See the sky?  I put it there.  Feel your feet pounding the earth?  I formed you both.

Of relationship.  More and more groups are forming to offer the chance to raise funds for something important while you run.  And it gives us the chance to actually do something.  And people hear God say, Join my people!  Join me!  I am doing amazing things in this world and you can help!  You are not powerless, you are not on the sidelines, you are in the game, impacting lives of people I love as you sweat, breathe, pound one foot in front of the other.

These groups bring people together not only as they train, but also as runners tell their story and ask for financial support, and as supporters–runners and donors alike–pray for the communities that might be impacted by the training group.

Some of our church team after the race.

Team World Vision at the 13.1 L.A.

My next race is for Team Living Room, and I am particularly looking forward to it because two of my best friends will be running as well.

One is my training buddy here at home, and her story is so great.  She hopes to raise $1,000 to continue compassionate care for the ill and dying in Kenya.

We started training 33 days ago, when she told me she couldn’t go a mile, at any pace.  That first day, we walk/ran 2.  Today, she ran 3 without stopping, and it was her 5th day of running in a row.

The other lives out of state, and while she will be coming out for Long Beach, her goal is the New York Marathon a few weeks later.  She hopes to raise $5,000 to fight sex trafficking. Oh, and she’s training in Phoenix.  Arizona. In the summer.


So I’m running.  And for me, at least, I have a sense of God at work while I do.

Leave a Reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in:

WordPress.com Logo

You are commenting using your WordPress.com account. Log Out /  Change )

Google photo

You are commenting using your Google account. Log Out /  Change )

Twitter picture

You are commenting using your Twitter account. Log Out /  Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out /  Change )

Connecting to %s