Wednesday, February 04, 2009

The Dramatic Gesture

Dean Karnazes shares my birthday: August 23, 1962. The similarities pretty much end there. Karnazes grew up in Los Angeles and began running home from kindergarten so he wouldn’t have to burden his mother with rides every day. By third grade he was organizing running events with other kids. By age eleven he had hiked rim-to-rim across the Grand Canyon and had climbed Mount Whitney, the highest mountain in the contiguous United States. For his 12th birthday, he cycled the 40 miles to his grandparents’ home for fun, without first telling his parents. He became a dedicated and accomplished high school runner. In his mid-40’s now, he is the most well-known ultra-marathoner in the world. He has won the world’s toughest footrace, the Badwater Ultramarathon, running 135 miles across Death Valley in 124 degree temperatures. On seven different occasions he has run a 200-mile relay race… solo. He completed a marathon in Antarctica. He has written a book, Ultramarathon Man, which will be the subject of an upcoming movie, and last year completed fifty marathons in fifty consecutive days. I’ll let that sink in for a moment. Oh, he finished with the New York marathon, which he ran in 3 hours, then jogged … to St. Louis.

Could someone pass me a chocolate cake donut, please? I like the ones with the little peanut sprinkles.

The part of Karnazes’ story that has always intrigued me is what happened when he was thirty years old. You see, he had had a falling out with his high school coach and quit running entirely for fifteen years. He found himself on his thirtieth birthday frustrated, stagnated, out-of-shape, and miserable. His inner spirit was dying like a flower without sun. In the middle of the night he threw on an old pair of lawn-mowing shoes and boxer shorts, rushed out the front door and started running. He stopped thirty miles later. It was an impromptu all-night, soul-searching, purging, clarifying, life-changing outing. He returned home to his family, quit his job, and launched the rest of his life as a health food store owner and adventure athlete.

There is something powerful to me about The Dramatic Gesture. How many people are miserable in their jobs, stuck in their ruts, paralyzed by their patterns? We yearn to break free but fear the risks. We want our spirit to soar instead of sag but we don’t know how to set it free.

Whenever I read the first few chapters of Acts, which I am preaching on this week (4:13-23), I am filled with a sense of abandon and spiritual imagination. What if we lived as boldly as these first followers of Jesus? What if we lived even one-tenth as boldly? What if we just “went out the front door,” as it were, and started running until God told us to stop? Is there a dramatic spiritual gesture that might pull you out of your life of lethargy and shackles of stupor? Perhaps an extended fast, or a trip to a conference, or an ambitious goal to read the Bible, or … something. I’m talking about something so big it scares you to think about trying it but the very fact that it scares you throws you into a reliance upon God and a necessary faith that is in itself exhilarating.

Sometimes it’s either that or have another donut and die a little more inside.


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