Ken Shigematsu on God Meets Me in My Daily Run

I don’t know if it’s because I am of Japanese descent or because I am a pastor—or both—but my life has been largely driven by a sense of duty. For many years, my prayer life also felt dutiful.

As I prayed through lists of people and specific requests, I would often find myself checking my watch to see if I had clocked my time. Rather than talking with God or listening for his voice, I was essentially talking at God. Those times of prayer often felt burdensome and wearying.

Over the years, my prayer habits have gradually changed. I’ve come to see prayer as a chance to enjoy God’s company. Now my time with the Lord is my favorite part of the day—a time I approach with anticipation.

During this past year of COVID-19, like many pastors, I have woken up some mornings feeling melancholy, at times with a twinge of depression. The weight of pastoral responsibility has pressed more heavily on my shoulders. I’ve worried about a young mother in our congregation who was on a ventilator, fighting for her life. I’ve worried about church members who’ve lost their jobs. I’ve worried about the financial trajectory of our church during this prolonged pandemic.

In this difficult season of isolation, discouraging news, and weighty ministry concerns, my time with the Lord feels like a lifeline. Rather than a duty or obligation, daily I’m discovering that prayer opens an ideal space to experience gratitude and joy in God’s presence.

Each morning, I roll out of bed and leash our dog, Sasha, and while it is still dark, we go for a leisurely run through our neighborhood. While running, I mentally scan the past 24 hours, looking for some of its gifts: a good night’s sleep. A delicious dinner the evening before. A swim at our local pool. A meaningful conversation. As I identify the things I am thankful for, slowly I begin to feel more grateful. I know that as I savor something good in my mind, my brain releases dopamine and serotonin, elevating my mood, but as I trace these gifts to their ultimate source, I also feel more gratitude and joy in God.

I am learning that prayer is the best context to receive and savor God’s love. A few years ago, someone encouraged me to watch Won’t You Be My Neighbor?, a documentary about Fred Rogers. It has a scene in which Rogers, an ordained minister, delivers a university commencement address. He invites the graduating class to take one minute to imagine the face of someone who wants the best for them—someone who “loved you into loving.” (On a similar occasion, Rogers asks listeners to picture those “who have loved us into being.”) Rogers then tells his listeners, “You don’t ever have to do anything sensational for people to love you.” Inspired by those words, during my morning run, I bring to mind my wife, our son, my mom and dad (who died a few years ago), a mentor, and others who have loved me. People whose existence feels like a pure gift. People through whom I’ve experienced the love of God.

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Source: Christianity Today