Why even our inadequate, brief, and distanced interactions during Covid encourage us to press on.
I discovered “The Runner Nod” on a running path near my house that I use several times a week. I’ve never been a big runner so it was something of a surprising discovery. Here it is:
When two walkers or joggers or cyclists will pass each other there is a friendly and determined nod exchanged. Some people say good morning. Other people give a thumbs up. Others flash a peace sign. But almost everybody signals to the runner they are passing that they see them, greet them, and encourage them to press on. Some people are smiling, others are wincing with effort, others look angry and determined. But almost all of them nod.
During the hottest parts of the summer here that runner nod was sometimes all that kept me going. When I saw another runner absolutely covered in sweat and working on a good sunburn, it helped. It didn’t make the weather any less hot or make me any less thirsty. It didn’t change anything about my external environment. But it did something inside me. It took away the feeling that I was alone. It gave me the encouragement of seeing someone else on the trail too.
One hot run in particular I came across an old man who must’ve been in his late 70s shuffling in a jog along the path. You could just tell he had been doing this for years. He no longer cared about cool running gear or a fast pace. He had tube socks that came up to mid-calf and an ancient looking baseball cap. But just seeing him put energy back into my steps. If he could do it I could do it. So I pressed on.
Church meetings and interactions during the season are largely unsatisfying. Don’t get me wrong—they’re a blessing. But they’re not the same as the glory days of donuts handed out freely with coffee in the auditorium and seeing old and young members embracing in hugs.
Here’s what it looks like: At our church gatherings we are encouraging people to wear masks and stay 6 feet apart. And it’s really hard to have an encouraging faith-building conversation yelling through masks 6 feet away from each other. In our community group the guys in my group get together and sit 6 feet apart from each other outside in my backyard. It’s better and we can certainly connect and share more there but there are constant reminders of the distance. And once a month our community group jumps onto laptops and phones for an online meeting. It’s always awkward. There are weird noise is coming through from somewhere. There are weird delays. It’s hard to share something deep on your heart through a computer screen while someone is trying to figure out how to adjust their mic volume.
In Hebrews 10:24-25 says, “And let us consider how to stir up one another to love and good works, not neglecting to meet together, as is the habit of some, but encouraging one another, and all the more as you see the Day drawing near.” Many times gathering with church people in this season is hard and unsatisfying. Is it really worth it to get to church, remember the restrictions, and worship through the awkwardness? Is it really worth it for my wife Jenn to fight to engage on the livestream while a one year old yells in her ear? Is it even making any difference?
If our church gatherings are just productions, then no. The environment is not ideal. It’s not relaxing and comfortable. But if the point is that we stir one another up to love and good works, then this absolutely makes a difference.
Many times in these church interactions all you get is a runners nod. You hear briefly from the other person and see them running on the path of faith. You see them sweating and straining in their individual race of faith. And you wish you could put an arm around them or carry them for a while but sometimes all you can do is give a thumbs up and a nod.
But God has used these brief interactions to keep me running.
In passing this is what I know: My elderly but young-at-heart friend Mrs. Wheeler is still full of joy despite being much more isolated and at great risk of her health because of her age. My friend Neil is trying to help a local school district figure out how to even do fine arts in this age of pandemic and dealing with major stress. My friend Anna is battling through long-term coronavirus symptoms and effects. My friends Lenny and Amy are trying to manage teaching from home while all of their kids attend class from home as well. My friend Jon is leading worship on Sundays after an unsatisfying week of trying to teach people to learn music through a computer screen. They’re running at different paces. They’re running their own races. But they’re running.
So on Sundays we run together. The wind is against us. The weather is terrible. But we’re not giving up. We see each other and nod. We raise our hands in worship. We lean forward and hear the word. We catch brief life updates. Then too quickly, we’re back in our cars driving away.
The external world hasn’t changed, but we have. There’s a little more energy in our steps. So we press on.
Hebrews 12:1 "Therefore, since we are surrounded by so great a cloud of witnesses, let us also lay aside every weight, and sin which clings so closely, and let us run with endurance the race that is set before us,"
Ricky Alcantar is husband to Jenn, dad to three boys, and serves as Lead Pastor of our "sister church" Cross of Grace Church in El Paso, TX where he oversees preaching and vision for the church. He loves thinking about writing but then listening to podcasts instead. This post originally appeared on his personal blog and has been reposted here with permission.
Photo by via Unsplash