Post Author: Lee Hull Moses
One Saturday last summer, I found myself climbing over several big mounds of wet and slimy mud on the way to the finish line of a six-mile obstacle course. For years, I’ve been a sporadic runner – training for a 5K here and there and then slacking off until even the thought of running a mile was daunting. But for some reason, this year I got the bug. My husband and I ran a 10K back in June, and then – in the best shape I’ve been in since, well, before my kids were born – I decided I needed another goal. So when a family from church invited me to be part of their relay team for this mud run, I said yes before I had time to think about it too much. I did have a moment of hesitation in which I wondered if this was okay – were any pastor-parishioner boundaries being violated anywhere? But I’ve been their pastor for nearly five years now, and I decided I trusted them to be able to see me crawling on my knees through a mud-filled pipe and still respect me Sunday morning when I stepped to the communion table.
So, we did it. I ran the second (and judging by the pictures I saw later, easier) half of the course – my teammate had to rope-crawl upside down across a creek and slide down a muddy hill; my half included a 1/2 mile of walking through water and a steep uphill climb.
Because I am a writer and a preacher, I can’t help but look for metaphors everywhere, and an obstacle course is custom made for them. There seemed to be a lesson lurking around every turn, and soon it became clear that my inner preacher had come along for the run.
Sometimes you just have to deal with whatever’s right in front of you, she pointed out as I turned a corner and was confronted with a giant bale of hay to climb. Life’s a lot easier when you have a little help, she reminded me as some other runners helped me find my footing on the 12-foot wall I had to scale. You might as well jump right in, she said as the trail headed toward a running creek. You’re going to get wet anyway. Life is like that, you know. I rolled my eyes at her and plunged into the water.
I trudged for awhile along the creek bed, muddy water up to my knees. It wasn’t much of a race at that point, given that my choices were to walk very slowly over the rocky bottom or fall over. Other people passed me, somehow more able than I was to navigate the slippery rocks. It’s okay, the preacher said. Everybody goes at their own pace. Better to finish slow than to break your ankle and not finish at all.
Partway through, I realized the whole thing was a little silly. I could climb right out of the creek anytime I wanted to and hitch a ride back to my car. This was hardly a wilderness adventure. But my preacher wasn’t going to let me off that easily. Think of all the people who do really hard things because they don’t have a choice. The military spouse whose partner is overseas. The woman fighting cancer. The father who just got laid off. Good point, I told her, and kept trudging.
One of the last obstacles was to swim across a pond and bob some barrels bouyed in the middle. I can swim decently, so I made good time across the first half, ducked under the barrels and headed toward the far shore. Partway across, I flipped over on my back for a rest – it’s hard to swim with water-logged running shoes strapped to your feet! – and looked up. The sky was a perfect blue, the water cool, and I realized – somewhat to my surprise – that I was having a good time. I have great memories of swimming in lakes when I was a kid, and I don’t get to do it much now. What’s the lesson here? I heard the preacher in my head ask. The beauty of …
But before she could go on, I told her to shut up.
I let myself take in the sky, the water, the sounds of other swimmers. Then I flipped back over, and kicked my way to the edge of the pond. Just up the hill was the finish line, with several big obstacles to go. But there was my family, cheering me on, and my relay teammate, who jumped back into the course and climbed over those giant mud hills with me. We dropped to our knees to go under some barbed wire, then crawled through the last muddy pipe and crossed the finish line: wet, dirty, and laughing. My inner preacher was nowhere to be found.
I spend most of my time making meaning out of things. The scripture text for Sunday, the stories I hear in pastoral visits, the dynamics of the church board. The world is full of metaphors, just waiting to be cracked open and mined. But maybe we don’t have to make meaning out of every experience. Maybe we don’t have to learn something every time. Maybe the experience is just the experience.
That’s what I realized as I washed the mud out of my hair later that day: In the end it was just plain ridiculous fun with friends on a summer Saturday morning. And that was really all the meaning I needed.