Thought Tracks

We demolish arguments and every pretension that sets itself up against the knowledge of God, and we take captive every thought to make it obedient to Christ. - 2 Corinthians 10: 5

There are two items I simply refuse to exercise without – my Apple watch, and my headphones. 

At the risk of sounding habitually dramatic, I don’t want to walk as far as my bathroom without knowing exactly how many steps I’ve clocked on the way to my toothbrush. And when it comes to headphones, I can’t think of a better way to drown out the sound of my own panting during a tough training session than with a bumping beat and powerful lyrics. Running is hard enough without having to listen to an overture of wheezing lungs and enthusiastic thigh claps. 

Last year, I trained for my first sprint duathlon. One particular morning, after two guiltless smacks of the snooze button, I rolled out of bed and quickly dressed for my workout. With the duathlon being just a few days away, I couldn’t miss one of my last opportunities to get in a long sweat sesh and confirm my paces for the race. After filling my water bottle, donning my watch, and securing my driver’s license and credit card in a sweat-proof bag (summertime running is no joke, ya hear me!?), all I was missing was my new pair of  headphones. Emphasis on the word missing. 

The Lord is my Shepherd; I lack nothing. - Psalms 23:1 

I looked on the charger, the windowsill, under the bed, in the closet, in all 4 of my purses and no sign of headphones could be found. I nervously glanced at the clock and realized 15 minutes had elapsed since beginning my detective mission. I needed a game plan fast. After a few minutes of convincing myself that God might not want me to work out today, I was whopped with the more realistic possibility: I could technically go for a run and bike without headphones. If I were being honest, however, I would much rather go running on a humid day without my rescue inhaler than my headphones. 

 I am fully aware that in a city as large as Chicago, likely no one would blink twice if I played my music out loud as I exercised. I had long since  decided, however,  that if I couldn’t hear every detailed beat of the high hats in my Beyoncé song because of traffic noises and angry dogs, it just wasn’t worth it. So with a heavy sigh, I tucked a sweat towel into my tank top, took a last sip of water, and headed out for my “silent” run. 

A few paces in, I took inventory of my senses. The weather was humid, but slightly overcast. My breathing was controlled (for the time being), and my legs felt strong (again, this was less than a quarter mile in). I hummed a few lines of a song I like, but for the most part, things felt somewhat muted. I heard the small toddlers being rolled down the sidewalk in their bougie strollers, the pppppppppppt of a lawn mower and edger, and the squeaky brakes of the city buses. I felt as though the lens through which I was viewing the plants, the people, and the waves of Lake Michigan were so much sharper than when I was just pounding pavement to pop songs. Most notably,  I saw and heard so much more than the city had to offer in the late morning. Of all the sounds I detected, I was surprised to learn that the loudest was that of my own voice. 

You know when I sit and when I rise ; you perceive my thoughts from afar...before a word is on my tongue, you, Lord, know it completely. - Psalms 139: 2,4 

My thoughts danced around my head, past my ears, and down my chin as if they were mimicking the pattern of my sweat droplets at the halfway point. Dozens of to-do lists threatened to monopolize my mid-morning run. Replayed interactions from the previous workday rewound time after time. And then there was my own monologue, speaking mostly edifying affirmations but also the occasional unloving remark. At some point a few miles in, I was flooded with thoughts of what my running form and pace should be at this stage in training, what I should be capable of in my career, my relationships, my life. Several times during the run, I had to jolt myself out of my head  with a strong “hey!”. I was so surprised of how mindful I wasn’t, and the damaging thoughts I allowed to rent a room in my head. How long had I been thinking like this? I wondered. Had I been using music as an adjunct for an upbeat workout, or as a distraction from processing my thoughts and emotions behind my peppy personality? After walking a bit and ruminating on what I know to be true, I was able to spend the rest of the run rebuking my unhelpful thoughts and replacing them with truth-filled affirmation. I didn’t do it perfectly, and it wasn’t fun. But I was proud of my willingness to be honest with myself, even when it was uncomfortable. 

Finally, brothers and sisters, whatever is true, whatever is noble, whatever is right, whatever is pure, whatever is lovely, whatever is admirable- if anything is excellent or praiseworthy - think about such things. - Philippians 4:8

If I’m being honest, I don’t want to make a habit of exercising without my headphones. I spent 4+ years curating my 7.5 hour cardio playlist for a reason, after all. But I do want to grow in the rhythm of savoring “silence”, and listening to the soundtrack I have playing in my head. I’m slowly learning to stop gritting my teeth through this process, and to ask the Lord to help me renew my mind constantly. And let me be super honest, there have been many nights lately where my mental soundtrack has boomed louder than the voice of truth. I’m thankful for grace that wraps me up and pulls me out of my own messiness time after time.  I’m also super grateful that God gave us dope resources like therapists to process all this with! I hope to grow in the discipline of controlling my thoughts, and having the courage to change the tune of what’s playing in my head if it’s not serving me. I hope if you struggle with similar thought tracks, you’re encouraged to dive deeper and seek freedom from that as well. I’m not sure what this journey will look like for myself, but the thought of learning to be more honest and kinder to myself and others? Well that sounds like music to my ears. 

Do not conform to the pattern of this world, but be transformed by the renewing of your mind. Then you will be able to test and approve what God’s will is- his god, pleasing, and perfect will.- Romans 12:2
will run for fries. Periodt.

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