How a Running Accident Changed My Perception of God - Letter from Grace Carroll

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I am a runner. It is in my blood, passed down from my mom, and it is in my heart, as a believer in our human incarnated-ness. Training for a race brings me closer to God: discipline, focus, delayed gratification, sacrifice, and discomfort that all engender growth. Marathon training usually aligns with my own spiritual growth.

Dear lovely sisters, 

Alarm goes off. Half-asleep, I fumble in the dark with my shorts and tank top. Pull my hair back. Strap on my watch. Tie my laces. And, slip out the door. 

Hundreds of miles logged, and just as many prayers uttered on those miles. Pain offered up. Money raised for a good cause. My prayer intention list ready to go. What more could God want of me?! I told myself that I had worked too hard for God to let me down on this one. 


Like arriving home after a long day or feeling the warm embrace of a best friend, I feel myself as I run. My mind and heart wander...to a forgotten errand, to the birds chirping, or to my brother needing prayers with a tough day of work ahead of him. My feet know the drill, falling into a rhythm that is punctuated by the steady sound of my soles against the road. The rest of the world sleeps, but I know that the early alarm is worth these minutes of solace and peace. As I run, I hear God and feel His presence. 

I am a runner. It is in my blood, passed down from my mom, and it is in my heart, as a believer in our human incarnated-ness. Training for a race brings me closer to God: discipline, focus, delayed gratification, sacrifice, and discomfort that all engender growth. Marathon training usually aligns with my own spiritual growth. So, as I prepared for my fall marathon, I ate well, completed tough workouts, skipped nights out with friends, and talked to God regularly on the run. I built up my upcoming marathon to be the race when everything finally came together, finishing much faster than my time goal. God helps those who help themselves, right? Hundreds of miles logged, and just as many prayers uttered on those miles. Pain offered up. Money raised for a good cause. My prayer intention list ready to go. What more could God want of me?! I told myself that I had worked too hard for God to let me down on this one. 

The combination of heat and humidity and exertion caused so much stress on my heart that I collapsed, a little over a mile from the finish line. 


Well, down I went, at mile 25, when I was on pace for a huge personal best time. The combination of heat and humidity and exertion caused so much stress on my heart that I collapsed, a little over a mile from the finish line. 

I was devastated. Not the Instagram-worthy finish-line post that I was planning. Four months of work and not even a finisher’s medal to show for it. Instead, I was recovering in the hospital, hooked up to IV fluids, wondering how things went so wrong. This, most definitely, was not part of the deal that I thought God and I had made! I trained diligently and intensely, I made sacrifices, I infused my running with prayer, I treated my body healthily...and this was the result?! It felt like a door being slammed on my face, right when I was about to walk through. And, I was blaming God. 

As the weeks and months passed, I felt waves of frustration and desolation in my spiritual life. Some days, I refused to think about God, believing that if this was how He treated His faithful, then I had no time for, or interest in, Him. Other days, the tiniest part of myself admitted that for as much lip service I offered about relying on God, I really only “relied” on Him when things went according to my plan. My marathon collapse revealed the extent to which I had constructed a box for God, all the while deceiving myself that I trusted Him with abandon. 

God cannot be contained in our ideas of who He is, what He should do for us, or how our plans should materialize.


Six months later, while at Eucharistic Adoration, I was overwhelmed by the image of Christ’s light piercing all corners of the dark Church, like a million shards of glass thrown about in slow motion. God was shattering my box of Him...blowing it to smithereens. 

God cannot be contained in our ideas of who He is, what He should do for us, or how our plans should materialize. Yet, letting God fill all parts of our lives, not only in the areas and ways that we have vetted and designated as “safe” for Him, can be terrifying. Still, this is the risk we take in faith when we toe the starting line: that we believe in a God whose love and mercy cannot be confined by human parameters.

But, I am thankful for a God who is re-teaching me to fall in love with Him, not just my own puppet version of Him, and for those who run with me in this beautiful marathon of life with all of its bumps and twists and turns.


My heart broke out there at mile 25, but so did my perfectly built box seeking to restrain God. A break-up with a man we had loved or a dashed hope about an exciting career opportunity or the weight of life’s monotony may lead us to cry, “I thought I knew you, God, but this isn’t what I had in mind! Where are you?!” Asking that question was the start of opening myself up to God. And, sisters, the unexpected ways in which God has flooded my heart - the strengthening of friendships, the new hobbies, the appreciation for my body’s capabilities, the opportunities for vulnerability, the recognition of my utter need for God - are reminders that our human notions of Him pale in comparison to the God seeking to permeate all parts of ourselves. 

The pain of not crossing that finish line still exists. But, I am thankful for a God who is re-teaching me to fall in love with Him, not just my own puppet version of Him, and for those who run with me in this beautiful marathon of life with all of its bumps and twists and turns. Happy to be training together for the sweetest finish line that awaits. 

Verso l’alto,
Grace


About Grace Carroll

My name is Grace Carroll and I am a daughter, sister, friend, soon-to-be-aunt, lifelong learner, runner and lover of the outdoors (especially when it involves the New England coast), reader, and mostly-healthy eater who has an equal love for sweet potatoes and dark chocolate. After teaching at a Catholic high school post-college, I realized how many questions I had about the Catholic faith and did something I never expected to do - I returned to school to study theology full-time. Part way through my Master’s program, it is safe to say that I have more questions than when I enrolled, ha! So, right now, I am a full-time grad student trying and often failing to balance study, time with friends, dating, my need for competition and a daily sweat, apartment decorating (SOS to Joanna Gaines!), travel, prayer, and my work mentoring college-aged women. Life is full and so, so good.


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