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Doing Hard Things

Posted by Michelle Manley on


Ready for this?

I’ve been running. Every other day, for five whole weeks, I’ve headed out the door in the morning for a thirty-minute run (well, walk and run).

This is big news in my life. It may not seem big in our exercise culture. I have so many friends who frequent half-marathons! But, for someone who has never been an athlete and most often chooses an exercise plan of least resistance, this is big news.

I actually planned to keep it a secret. Or rather, I just didn’t plan to mention it that widely. It seemed wise to keep my expectations low. I didn’t want the pressure of others watching and asking. There’s a high likelihood this fizzles, I assumed. Plus, my goals are moderate next to that thirteen-plus mile stuff. I’m aiming for a 5K.

Copyright: maridav / 123RF Stock Photo

I’m still not that sure about this running endeavor, but it is spurring an interesting reflection in me on “doing hard things.” I’ve done a number of emotionally hard things in my life in response to a difficult situation in my path. I’ve grieved losses. I’ve stayed present in difficult relationships, working for resolution.

I could have made more avoidant, “less hard” choices in those moments, but the stakes seemed clear and high. Press into the difficulty or take on an emotional limp in life.

Choosing hard things for an external goal feels different to me. I don’t think of myself as a particularly goal-driven person. My husband initiated the idea of a 5K as part of a big family trip we’re taking this summer. My first thought was that there was no shame in walking a little more than 3 miles. I could sign on for that.

Somewhere from the recesses of my mind, though, I remembered a friend’s description of the app “Couch to 5K.” I’m not particularly inspired by conquering a goal, but I am motivated by clear guidelines to follow. This app promised to take me step-by-step from my occasional stationary bike workouts to running a full 5K. All I had to do was the next step laid out for me. I could probably do that, right?

And I have been. It’s gotten harder this past week as I’ve crossed the halfway mark in the training, but I’m still doing it.

As I watch myself do something hard, something I largely didn’t believe I could do, I find myself intensely interested about what’s happening here. What does this experience tell me about myself? About life? About God?

I’m reminded of how often I’m an undersell-and-over-deliver kind of gal. There is virtue in modesty and there are potential pitfalls in grandiosity, but I recognize a self-protection, a preemptive saving face, at the core of some of my modest targets.

Undershooting my capacity can also be tiring at times for my closest friends and colleagues. Who wants to be with someone who is regularly making qualifying statements about themselves and their abilities?

I’d like to be free to go for it more, even if I sometimes only get halfway there. And, I find myself more thoughtful these days about wanting to use all that God’s given me, for God’s glory, my joy, and the world’s good.

For me, living with greater confidence to stretch for hard things works together with that adage,“Slow and steady wins the race.” In college, I notoriously answered the ice-breaker question If you were an animal, which animal would you be? with “Tortoise.” My friends razed me about that choice and tried to help me re-write my image into something more majestic and soaring, like the deer that climbs to the heights.

Can I get a both/and on that? I think I’ve grown to embrace the complement of that light-footed image, but I also embrace the good of the more plodding tortoise. I’m experiencing that in my steps from the couch to the 5K. Sometimes (maybe always?) we get to the grander places one step or stage at a time. Breaking down the challenge into manageable chunks really helps.

Probably most significantly, I’m noticing how stretching beyond one barrier affects other barriers I am confronting in life. These days I’m also struggling to stick with a more theologically dense book than I usually choose, doing battle with the “I-don’t-read-hard-books” voice within. It’s true that I don’t prefer them. But, I can read them (preferably in manageable chunks) if I want to. A month of running has helped convince me of this.

I even feel the cascade into my parenting. Doing one hard thing helps me persist in other hard things.

I still reserve the right to hang up my running shoes after the 5K later this month. Feel free to ask me, though, what other hard things I’m choosing to attempt!


Michelle Manley likes the space of quiet reflection, reading, and prayer. She enjoys sitting and talking with others, listening for the creative work of God in daily life. Given that, many are surprised to learn that she's an avid sports spectator and fan. She also tackles bike rides and ski slopes occasionally with her nine- and eleven-year-old sons to keep credibility up with them. She is married to Mark and has worked as a pastor at The River Church Community in the areas of Small Group Community and Adult Spiritual Formation for nearly eighteen years.



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