our motivating factors

As I was running this morning, I had an “Ah-ha!” moment. I tend to have my best “Ah-ha!” moments when I’m running, though I tend to think they’re better than they are during the run than I do post-run; such is the case today. But I’m going to write about it anyway.

So, I was running and reflecting on the past year, and on life in general, as I often do when I run (I suppose most people probably do this), and I began to wonder why I run, what keeps me running? I suppose I run to stay fit and to stay healthy (yes, in that order; perhaps I’ll grow into being a good human being who values her health above how good she looks in a swimsuit; I’ll admit for now, though, I am not there yet).

However, I find that I run faster and longer when personal fitness and personal health are not my motivations, though these are valid motivations, respectable, even. When I run with Sarah, a sweet, sweet girl who lives down the hall from me, I run for her – to motivate and encourage her to run faster and longer; I adjust my pace for her, be it faster or slower. When Sarah is my motivation, running at least feels like it has greater purpose, even if we are both just running to stay fit and healthy. Do you recognize how strange this is: the goals have not changed. I’m just striving for them with another person. Even more, I begin to strive for, not my own goals, but for hers. And this at least feels more purposeful than my lonely pursuit of my personal goals.

Such a train of thought led me back to a couple of summers ago when I read “Through Gates of Splendor” by Elizabeth Elliot. Mrs. Elliot writes about her deceased husband Jim Elliot, a man whose heart absolutely burned for God; he eventually died at the hands of members of an indigenous tribe while attempting to share the Gospel with them (you can read/watch his story in the book and movie “The End of the Spear,” as well). Prior to becoming a missionary, as a young man, Jim justified and found motivation in his athletic pursuits because he was aiming toward being physically prepared for missionary work. Everything Jim did, in fact, was very overtly for the glory of God.

I’m not proposing that we always run for others, or that we shouldn’t lift weights, etc… unless we are lifting for the Kingdom of God. (I do believe, though, in a specific way, that it would be ideal, even for our own sakes, if we were able to do this.) It’s a difficult exhortation to heed; it’s a tiring train of thought to keep up, if only because it’s so contrary to human nature. Self-motivation isn’t as mentally exhausting as selfless motivations can be.

My “Ah-ha” moment was merely an observation of how much easier it can be to follow through with our work in life when our motivations are somehow outside of ourselves. It’s strange, and not necessarily logical, but, at least for me, experientially true. I think it has to do with the hunger for meaning and purpose. Ecclesiastes echoes these emotions, “Vanity of vanities, says the Preacher, vanity of vanities! All is vanity. What does man gain…”  And I think this is one of the big reasons why I just can’t buy into the Nietzschean philosophy, or any other self-motivated systems of living; it’s fruitless, precisely because you end up lonely with whatever “fruit” you do gain.


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