Two years ago, I was about five sizes larger than I am now. I did yoga, swam and walked back then. I wasn’t in totally horrible shape. When I was losing the weight, I wanted to give myself a goal besides lower numbers on a scale. I decided to train for a long-distance swim in Lake Okaboji in Northwest Iowa. The swim is 3.5 miles. It was a crazy goal. I had no idea how to train for it, besides keep doing longer and longer swims, which I did.
In the darkened, pre-dawn hours of race day came a storm displaying impressive thunder, zig-zagging lightening and swirling wind — a welcome sight to drought-stricken farms, but not so welcome for distance swimmers. Seeing the whitecaps on the water, race officials postponed the swim to the next day. That unplanned day off gave me a.) Too much time to think about how I did NOT need to finish this race and b.) a whole day without any “good carbs,” causing me not to eat very much. (A fine technique for weight loss; not so much for endurance sports.)
Needless to say, a relaxed attitude and a low carb diet aren’t good ingredients for finishing a long-distance swim. My blood sugar crashed after about an hour of swimming. My kayaker and I flagged down one of the rescue boats and I hoisted my depleted body up the ladder and out of middle of the lake. I had gotten more than halfway to the finish line.
Although I didn’t finish that particular swim, the experience broke open my imagination. What if I trained for a triathlon for the next season? I had already started biking and running as part of my workout regimen, mostly to ward off boredom. I could just increase my workout routine a little and I could do a triathlon? Right?
I got advice from friends who had done triathlons. I found a group of people at the local YMCA with whom to train. The training was so much harder than I imagined. Building the endurance to put a 1-mile swim, a 25-mile bike ride and a 6-mile run together all in one event taxes even the healthiest minds and bodies. My daily schedule revolved around workout times. I injured my knee. I worked at recovering it.
During the process, I got wrapped up in unhealthy self-comparison to other athletes. I had “gear” envy. I yearned for longer legs. These ego-driven notions about speed and athletic equipment were nothing but a distraction. I didn’t do this for speed or the gear. I did it to push at my own boundaries, wherever they are. Above all, these athletic pursuits are a spiritual endeavor — a way for me to connect to God and to my best self — whatever my best self looks like in the moment.
The triathlon transformed into a living prayer. I dedicated parts of the course to different people — friends, family and colleagues who love and inspire me. As I struggled through the last mile of the run to the finish line, I contemplated the God who inspired this crazy idea in the first place. “Nothing is impossible with God,” (Luke 1: 37) I thought. The day of the race, I concentrated on enjoying the moment. I finished the race and was high from it for days.
God dares us to dream big dreams. God always sees the potential that we can’t seen in ourselves and in our communities. God casts visions of renewed communities born from places left in the ruins of the economic recession. If we break open our collective imaginations, what could we dream? An end to war? Hunger? Poverty? Environmental degradation?
Big dreams are the only thing that can “save” the church and make it relevant once again. Too often we make ourselves too small, relegating church to a nice social club and faith to a practice of convenience. If we connect to God’s preferred vision for us, the church can reclaim its rightful place at the margins of society, resurrecting the places and people left for dead.
If you were to shed your ego — the fear of failure, unhealthy comparisons to others, the yearning for more time and money — what dreams would you dream? For yourself? The world? How could your gifts be used to serve these dreams?
God dances in our imaginations if we ask these questions without reservation. Go ahead, let God dance a little.