Six practical tips on how to honor God and run an excellent race during your single days.
If there’s one Bible verse that Christian singles hear referenced more than any other, it’s Hebrews 12.
“Sad about being single?” says your well-intended married friend. “Don’t worry. Just run after God, and fix your eyes on Jesus!”
Now, it’s possible, the last time someone recommended taking a run after God as a panacea for your painful and unwanted season of singleness, the insight provided new clarity, and you said, “Of course! Why didn’t I think of that?” But maybe, if you’re like me, you nodded politely and thought “Sounds nice. What does that mean, exactly?”
I used to think “fixing my eyes on Jesus” meant staring at my Bible Gateway app screen to the point of clinical eye strain. And likewise, that “running after God” looked like a more frenetic church schedule, with unblemished attendance to the kind of Bible studies that discussed the meaning of meek in Greek. After seeking more understanding, however, I discovered the Bible’s references to running and relationships, are far richer with wisdom.
Looking again at Hebrews in more detail, the verse says: “Let us throw off everything that hinders and the sin that so easily entangles. And let us run with perseverance the race marked out for us. Fixing our eyes on Jesus the pioneer and perfecter of faith.”
Regardless of relationship status, we are all running the race at this very moment. In the rest of the article, I’ll offer some thoughts specifically to those who are single or dating, on ways to run the race well.
Starting with what not to do.
# 1 DON’T MAKE MARRIAGE YOUR STARTING LINE
During college, I ran track and specialized in the 5k and 10k races. In the traditional order of events, the distance races don’t start until the end of the day, which makes each track meet a long day of waiting, and also begs the question: “What does a runner do with all that lead-up time?” And the honest answer is,
First of all, other than skip around the warmup meadow, you can’t really do anything physical, because you’re supposed to save your body for the race. But it turns out, you can’t do much mentally either since just thinking about the race messes with your brain and makes you lightheaded. So instead, you fill the hours with distracting time killers and participate in the following 8 activities.
- Sip coffee
- Do easy homework, just to make yourself busy.
- Apply waterproof mascara, and re-braid your hair 3 times.
- Analyze the competition and conclude that their new microfiber red spandex uniforms might help them win.
- Visualize the ideal race.
- Worry about injury, especially if you’ve been hurt on the track before.
- Eat a series of small snacks, like grapes and granola, which taste fine, but aren’t really satisfying, and just whet your appetite more.
- Cheer for friends in their earlier events and try not to feel jealous or annoyed as they saunter around taking pictures of their finisher’s medals.
Basically, the entire day is a big lead up to the moment when you march to the starting line, cast off your sweatpants, and gallop into the twilight.
- A foolish runner expends so much anxious energy anticipating the race, that they have little reserves left over to put up a good fight during the race itself.
- A wise runner accepts waiting is just a part of the sport.
The Problem with the Starting Line
As singles, if we make marriage the starting line, and believe the “real race” has not yet begun, then we grant ourselves permission to delay important work God has for us. We are already running, and there is too large of a gap between earth and heaven to disqualify ourselves from meeting the needs of the world.
That said, if God calls your name on the loudspeaker (or the still small voice speaker) and tells you to use your gifts and talents in a specific area—be it school systems, sustainable city gardens, or startup companies—it can’t wait on your event calendar, and you must go.
# 2 DON’T MAKE MARRIAGE YOUR FINISH LINE
One of the lesser-known truths about runners is that they are a bimodal species of people, who oscillate between strenuous training, and shameless laziness. Take a cross country championship race day, for instance. At the smoke of the gun, you run relentlessly, over steep hills and through freezing rain, in a valiant pursuit of one goal: get to the finish line as fast as possible. Alas, you cross the line, and what happens next?
Well not much. You feel pretty useless, although you will manage to do the following 8 activities.
- Mingle around the finishing corral reception area
- Give celebration hugs
- Line up for team photos
- Eat a feast
- Go back to the hotel and take a nap
- Soak in the hot tub
- Feel relieved and satisfied that your most important work for the day is done
- Let yourself off the hook from all the usual disciplinary routines
Singles and Finish Lines
Finish lines are important for our vision. If runners were instructed to run as fast as possible, for an undefined distance, with no end in sight, they would get discouraged, and easily tire.
Likewise, if the not-yet-in-sight wedding day event is your finish line, the race is dangerously unsustainable. Your hope, in that case, lives only at the mercy of external factors like personal preferences, or variable life timelines. If your hope gets deferred for too long, an insidious weariness can creep into your soul and sicken your heart. On the contrary, when your hope flows from God, the only renewable energy source, you will soar on wings like eagles through all the ups, downs, and inevitable uncertainties of relationships.
Couples and Finish Lines
The second problem with making marriage a finish line is that when the wedding day finally does come to pass, all that motivation and sense of purpose driving you forward during the chase, evaporates at the altar.
How would you feel, if the first time you walked into your newlywed couple’s cottage, your spouse called out to the Amazon echo dot and said, “Alexa. Check “wedding” off the list. And block off our calendars for the next 60 years. Just AM brunch, and PM naps from here in out.” As dreamy as this might sound, that relationship rides a fast track train to implosion. To thrive both relationally, and spiritually, we need to be about something bigger than ourselves by sowing seeds in a field beyond our own backyard.
As singles, we get to choose whether we date people who work the field, or people who play the field. In the interest keeping your heart intact as you run the good race, pursue the former and flee from the latter.
# 3 DON’T SETTLE FOR ANYTHING LESS THAN THE HONEST PACE
There are many ways to run a race, but the simplest and purest strategy of them all is to run the “honest pace,” giving it everything you have, from start to finish. When the whole field runs honest, it’s beautiful performance, that makes records fall, and stadiums rise. But sometimes, even the most talented runners hold back from running their best. Front-running, you see, means wind resistance, a target on your back, and no guarantees as to who will go with you.
If nobody is willing to lead, then you just jog along, jostling elbows, stumbling on each other’s feet, and scanning the scene with your peripheral vision in case someone makes a move forward. The pace is laggard enough to snapchat selfies to the crowd — that is now upset, at watching their favorite athletes sell themselves short in mediocre efforts. Later, when the results are posted, and the times downright pedestrian, you tell your coach it was all the group’s fault.
What does it mean to “run honest?”
The way we carry ourselves in the various facets of our lives — the company we keep, the commitments we hold, the way we steward our time, money and attention — all come together to create the cadence of the pace we run. Our pace is “honest” to the degree that we are true to ourselves and obedient to who God has called us to be. But make no mistake, the honest pace, is neither nor common, nor easy, especially when single.
There’s an unspoken assumption, you see, that if you were to take off full speed ahead, at the pace of your true capability, that others will no longer be romantically interested in you. As singles, if we believe this collectively, then we act like a coed jogging club of bobbleheads, looking around at what everyone is doing, and holding back from going anywhere forward, lest we miss out.
Here are a few examples I have witnessed
- I know women who have been advised against diving into ideas that excited them, such as starting a small group at church, because it might “intimidate the single men.”
- I know men who have resigned themselves doomed to dealing with relationship drama full time because, apparently, “that’s just how it is.”
- As for myself, I’m not immune either. In fact, I once mentioned my friend, Mike that if I really wanted to get serious about dating, I should probably start by reinventing myself — maybe become more extroverted and edgy, and less innocent and whimsical. In slightly kinder terms, Mike said this was the worst idea he had ever heard because then I would betray myself, and nobody wins.
Now, it can be tempting to make compromises in hopes of winning the approval and affection of the common pack, but you don’t have to.
Instead, run at the pace, at which you wish to be caught. The lead pack always sets the precedent for the chase pack. If you set yourself on fire for God, and whatever makes you come alive, you will not cease to be romantically attractive. In fact, front-running while on fire makes you certifiably organic, drama free, hard to get.
The right person will not be intimidated by your pace. Rather, if you are equally yoked, they will keep you even more honest. Dating discernment can be challenging, but it doesn’t have to be a 50 step algorithm. Start by asking some simple questions. Such as, do we help each other run a more excellent race? Or are we signing up for a lifetime of a 3 legged race hobble?
Now, after 3 Don’ts in a row, you may be wondering “How then, shall I run?” I have three suggestions.
# 1 DO RUN UNENCUMBERED BY SIN
The 1980’s film “Chariots of Fire,” has a classic opening scene, where a parade of Scottish young men, dressed in white jogging suits, trot barefoot on the shores of West Sands, St Andrews to the sound of triumphant orchestral music. Even in slow motion, their light and free strides, capture the epitome of unencumbered running. Other runners, however, get a bit more tied up.
In basic running jargon, “speed goggles” refer to the rosy, and often deceptive, lenses that cause you to see the speediest runners of the opposite sex as significantly and more attractive and trustworthy.
In relationships, sexual intimacy gives you “oxytocin” goggles. The trust enhancement, heart bonding factors are ideal for a lifelong marriage commitment, although problematic if trying to see another person’s character clearly. The Bible says to flee from sexual immorality, but unfortunately, the world has no interest in protecting your purity or bolstering your sin fleeing energy. Sometimes, “playing dead” to sin is the more effective option. My personal recommendation is this:
Learn to be unimpressed, to the point of borderline apathy, by anyone or anything that slows you down from running an excellent race. For example, if I am in the middle of something meaningful—like writing this blog post, for instance — Enrique Iglesias could knock on my door, accompanied a team of well-built boy band backup dancers, ready to personally serenade me with the 2011 hit song, “Tonight I’m Lovin’ You,” and I would call out to my roommate with a sigh of annoyance and say “Aimee! Can you deal with that ruckus outside? It’s Enrique the encumbrance, and I have important work to do for the Kingdom of God.”
# 2 DO RUN FOR THE PRIZE
“Forgetting what is behind and reaching forward to what is ahead, I pursue as my goal the prize promised by God’s heavenly call in Christ Jesus” (Phil. 3:12-14).
In April of 2017, Jordan Hasay, a 25-year-old from San Luis Obispo, CA blazed through the streets Boston, clocking the fastest Marathon debut time ever by an American woman. Now, close your eyes for a moment and zoom back east to Boston.
Its mile 22. The fans line the streets of New England in a roaring tunnel of noise, as the lead pack comes barreling around the corner to the hydration station: their parched throats yearning for Gatorade. And all sudden Arie Luyendyk Jr, of the most recent Bachelor TV season, struts onto the course holding a rose in one and hand a bottle of wine in the other. “Jordan, will you accept this rose?” he asks. “You look tired. Why don’t you come take a break at my place? You can always jump back in the race later and get serious then.”
Hmm. There is a $50 prize purse waiting to be divvied up among the top finishers at the line. Not for a single second, would Jordan consider accepting a single petal. She has trained too hard to even entertain any compromises. Jordan wants to win. Her eyes are on the finish, and she will stay the course marked out for her–which most certainly, does not include a stopover at Arie Luyendyk Jr’s.
It’s easy enough for us to understand delayed gratification when its framed in the context of an earthly prize. And yet the Bible tells us, we store up riches in heaven, according to how we live on earth. “Goof off now, and get serious later” is a commonly accepted, but severely misguided belief among many singles. How we live now, and who we are becoming, matters not only for our marriage on earth, but also for our rewards in heaven. So just like Jordan, stay the course, and run for the prize.
# 3 DO RUN AGAINST THE CLOCK
Few people understand the value of a second as well an Olympic sprinter. In a 100 meter race, the difference between a crown of laurels and a last-place finish can be decided in one-tenth of a second. A sprinter knows that time is not on their side, and the race will over in a blink.
If you are single and desire to be married one day, the chances are, that you will eventually get there. But what you will not get back, are moments abandoned, or days wished away before marriage. Time is a precious God-given gift, equally valuable before and after your wedding day. Thus we need to grasp the unconditional urgency with which we are called to live our days.
Sometimes I have to remind myself, that death is not a question of if, but a matter of when. How many heartbeats, breaths, or laps are left? I’m not sure. But I am sure, that when I lean into the heavenly finish line, I’ll be running honest.
The Bell Lap
Now, the next time you feel discouraged about your singleness and someone tells you to “run after God,” you can look them in the eye with sincerity and say, “Thanks! I know just what to do!”
So go, and run the race set before you.
- Run with perseverance and an unshakeable hope
- Run away from darkness, and sprint towards light
- Run after truth, and stay the course.
- Run past evil with doppler effect of a Ferrari
- Run the honest pace and give it everything you have.
- Run powered by the fire of the Holy Spirit and let your life leave a legacy like a streak of light in a dark night sky