“You run like a duck.”
I was ten years old on my school soccer field when a girl told me this. I don’t know if she meant the words to be mean, but my cheeks burned with heat.
The kid laughed as she said it, after she’d seen me run across the field trying to keep up in a game the other kids were playing. I can’t remember her name or her face, but I remember her words. Even then I was self-deprecating, laughing along with her, shrugging it off with something like, “That’s me. A duck.”
But the words sunk like a rock into the pit of my stomach and shame crept its way into my body. I knew then: I couldn’t run again. I couldn’t risk embarrassing myself.
I blamed my parents for not enrolling me in sports teams as a child. I blamed God for making me more artistic than athletic. I blamed my body for being awkward and slow rather than smooth and quick like the bodies I saw around me.
For years I was self-conscious about the way I moved. I remember sitting at the very back of dance class in musical theatre camp, terrified of the possibility that other kids might see me dance. And years later, at my gym, I always tried to rearrange myself to look better on the elliptical machine. No matter how I moved my body, I’d remember those words a middle school kid once said to me.
But then this year, seventeen years later, I felt something I hadn’t in a long time: I wanted to run.
Sometimes it takes doing the very thing you swore you’d never do to hear the unfamiliar song of freedom and feel the shackles fall from your feet. A few weeks ago, I loaded my phone with worship music, stuck my earbuds in, found a trail and . . . ran. I ran like I’d never run before.
No one was with me, save for the breeze and the butterflies and the birds chirping. Sweat dripped down my face and beaded along my back, and my heart pounded hard and fast. I wasn’t good at it. I was doubled over after two minutes, panting and sweating and red-faced.
But I was running again. And the biggest difference? I wasn’t afraid anymore.
I could feel my sore legs as I took more and more steps, and instead of wishing I looked or moved differently, I said out loud to God, “You made me! You created this body in Your good image, and I can run and dance and worship You with it!”
At the end of that run, I placed my hand against my heart and felt it drumming within my chest. The breeze cooled my hot face, and I found a bench to rest. I sat cross-legged, in the presence of God. With that run, I had chosen to claim my freedom — perhaps more accurately, to re-claim my freedom.
Jesus freed me a long time ago, when He died and took all of my sin onto His very body. But I don’t always live in the freedom He died — and conquered death — to give me. Sometimes, instead, I choose to believe the words people have spoken over me — allowing those words to form my identity, instead of choosing to believe who God says I am.
Now, every time I lace up my runners, I lace them in defiance against the lies I believed. Every time I step my foot onto that beaten path, I step out in defiance against the words once spoken to me. Every time I run, I worship.
I probably won’t win any races (or even enter them). I probably won’t run a 5k or a marathon. Honestly, I don’t even know if I’ll ever be a good runner. But that’s not the point. I’m choosing to run again, not to be fast or to get fit but because God has made me free. And each time I run, I’m choosing to reclaim that freedom.
Whatever words someone spoke over you — seventeen years ago or maybe yesterday — don’t need to have power anymore. Your identity is formed by who God says you are — and you are made in His good image. The song of freedom is playing, and the shackles are ready to fall from your feet. Jesus has freed you. You are free.
So lace up your runners, take a step on a beaten path, and run in the freedom God has for you. Your legs might burn, and the sweat might fall . . . but your freedom? It’s worth reclaiming.