Salt & Light
For more than a decade now, I’ve been a runner. Amidst all the changes and turns in the road, running has been something I’ve always done. It’s kept my head and my heart right, to say nothing for the rest of me. Largely a solitary sport anyway, I’ve never been one for training groups, rarely hitting the road with more than one other person (races aside). Part of this, I think is that my schedule has always dictated that most of my miles get racked up at night. Not only am I the lone runner a lot of times, I’m sometimes the only person out period. Thus, social interactions aren’t usually something I concern myself with while running, at least until recently.
With school behind me, I suddenly have more time during daylight hours to visit the local trails and keep company with other sweat junkies. There’s still not a great deal of interaction, especially with most of us sprouting white wires from our ears. All the same, there is that moment of crossing paths, and everyone seems to handle it differently. There’s a lot of tough-looking nods back and forth, a tacit acknowledgement of simultaneous suffering. Some people wave, some give a bit of a grimace (maybe the best they can manage under the circumstances), and every once in a while there’s a genuine smile and “hello.” At least half the people I see out there, though, just straight up ignore everybody.
This didn’t used to bother me. Heck, I think I was one of those guys for a time. A lot of people, myself included, turn to running as a stress reliever. We blow off steam and burn up the accumulated frustrations of the day. Sometimes it’s just plain, hard work, and you don’t feel like being friendly. I get it. But the other thing I’ve been doing the last dozen years is thinking about my faith, and I’ve reached a place where the sort of determined blindness to other people I see on the trail just isn’t acceptable for me anymore. Regardless of what I’m feeling or how hard I’m working to get up that hill, these are still human beings I’m passing. More than that, they are children of God, beings that He loves every bit as much as me. Their lives are worth no more or less than my own, and that deserves an acknowledgement.
Jesus said we “are the salt of the earth….[we] are the light of the world” (Matthew 5:13-16). A lot of people seem to invoke this when it comes time for the holiday food drive or when an average man does something extraordinary. But, in my readings, I’ve never seen Jesus take sporadic or half measures. If you’re following Him, you’re in all the way. That means being salt and light in the little moments of life as much as the big. For this rambling runner, that thought pushes me to throw out a wave to everyone I pass and, as best as I can, putting a smile on it too. I’ve given up waiting for the awkward moment of trying to figure out if they’re going to make eye contact or not. Like so much else in life, this is a realization that I can’t control other people. Nor can I wait on them.
My brief wave, an open hand or peace sign, may not mean a thing to them. They might not even see it. Then again, maybe they will. Maybe, every now and again, that gesture, that tiny expenditure of effort from me, may be the spark of light that lifts a person’s day. The ultimate result is beyond me, but if I don’t take the initiative, small as it is, then my light most certainly stays beneath the bowl.
When the Tsarnaev brothers bombed the Boston Marathon finish line, an epicenter of American running culture, we rallied around the wounded, and the world got to see the strength of our pedestrian community. I would hope that that same feeling could turn into good will on the roads and trails, rather than fading into our own forgetful footsteps. If we Christian runners are to be salt and light, then let us not wait on anyone else to make the first move. Though our paths may cross for the briefest of flashes, that moment is still a chance to “let your light shine before others, that they may see your good deeds and glorify your Father in heaven.”