Mind and Spirit Over Matter from a (former) Runner’s Eyes

I can still remember that race.

High school.  Hill City Golf Course.  A two-mile race.

I run up hills and down hills, on and on.  My body moves in an established rhythm as my mind focuses on the next step, the next runner.

Spectators cheer from the sidelines, encouraging each and every runner regardless of which small Kansas high school they represent.

At one point, I am in the lead.

And then, somehow, I get lost – run the wrong direction.   Kind spectators frantically point me back to the race course.  I see girls I had recently passed advance in their placements as they accurately follow the course flags. 

But I won’t give up.  I urge my body on, running faster than before to catch up to the leaders once again. 

One more steep hill.

Round the corner.

And there is the finish line – less than 200 yards ahead.

Only two girls in front of me now. 

I force my body into one final sprint – I don’t want to have anything left when I cross that line.

My legs begin to tingle. 

They begin to wobble.

And then, they give out.

I’m on the ground.  My legs won’t move.  I have nothing left…

And the finish line is less than 10 yards ahead of me.

I hear gasps from the spectators gathered at the line. 

My dad lunges forward – I can feel his intent – his desire to come and help me.

A race official holds him back.  “She has to cross the line on her own or else she’ll be disqualified.”

A runner passes me.

I look at my dad’s face, his eyes and his words urging me forward, urging me to finish the race.

I try to stand up, but my liquid muscles won’t hold me.

Another runner passes me.

Somewhere in my mind comes the thought and the will.  I know what I need to do, and I know I’m willing to do it.  I will finish this race.

Slowly but steadily, I move one arm, then the other. 

One more runner passes me.

But now, I’m on the move.  Arm by arm, I pull my body forward, relying on my arms to do what my legs are no longer capable of.

And then, I’m there.  I stretch out one arm as far as I can.  My fingertips barely reach across the line, but it is enough. 

I have finished the race. 

The next thing I know, my dad is scooping me up off the ground.  He and another person are helping me stand upright before guiding me to rest and nourishment.

Mind over Matter

They say that running is 90% mental and only 10% physical.

In that race, my body (namely, my legs) stopped working, but my mind and spirit did not.  Those two elements worked together to get me to the finish line when my physical body, in its own strength, could not. 

Some people refer to this as “mind over matter” – the ability of the mind to push the body beyond its physical capabilities.

Mind Under Matter

Ok, so I’ve never heard of “mind under matter,” but there definitely seems to be scenarios that would fit that description – times when the mind limits the ability of the body to push itself to its fullest capabilities.

One of the things my dad, a former runner himself, would often tell me was, “Jenny, your body can take more than you are willing to give it.”

In my freshman and sophomore years of high school, those words served as motivation and encouragement to push myself harder.

Then, at some point in my junior year, I lost my motivation to run full out, and those words proved themselves to be true. Maybe it had something to do with physical changes that might have slowed my body down a bit, but I really believe it had more to do with a change in my mind and spirit.  I lost the ‘why’ of running hard.  I didn’t have a strong answer for why I should push myself day in and day out.  I didn’t think I would ever be faster or achieve more than I had in my freshman and sophomore years, so why put myself through so much pain for something that wasn’t going to happen?  I wasn’t motivated to win and receive more ribbons or medals – I had enough of those.  My spirit asked, “What’s the point?  Does me running hard really matter?  Is this really what’s important?”

This lack of motivation severely affected my performance that year.  Could my body have done more – probably, but it is almost impossible for your body to do more than your mind (and spirit) is willing to let it.   

By the time my senior year arrived, I was done — no more distance running.  I just couldn’t get myself to do it.

The *Mind and Spirit Impact the Body

The lesson in all of this: Taking care of the mind and spirit is important, especially since they have such a huge impact on the physical body.  If the mind and spirit are healthy, strong, and invested in the success of the physical body, that body will be able to go beyond its general physical limitations.  If the mind and spirit are weak, tired, or unmotivated, then even the strongest body will never be able to live up to its fullest potential.

Besides running, you see other examples of this throughout life.

  • Stress (a spirit, mind reaction to select circumstances) has many negative physical effects.
    • *Note: I know that certain physical chemical reactions within the body have been linked to stress as a reason for the stress, but that doesn’t explain why some people get stressed over a particular event or circumstance while others don’t.
  • Positive thinking (a spirit, mind action) has been linked to improved health.

Not surprisingly, the Bible supports these scientific findings.

  • Proverbs 13:12 – Hope deferred makes the heart sick, but desire fulfilled is a tree of life.
  • Proverbs 17:22 – A joyful heart is good medicine, but a broken spirit dries up the bones.

Which scriptures along this line come to your mind?   

The Body Impacts the Spirit and Mind

Just as the spirit and mind can strengthen or weaken the body, so too can the body strengthen or weaken the mind and spirit.

Take a common struggle we all face at one time or another – tiredness.  For whatever reason (usually a baby or small child in my case), we don’t get nearly enough rest.  Our body is tired.  This physical affliction can affect our mood – make us cranky and irritable.  It can affect our spirit – make it more difficult to focus on the truths of God, convince us that because we are snapping out at people that we ourselves have become unlovable in the eyes of God.

On the other hand, when we have received a decent amount of sleep, we are more likely to feel happy and at peace with the world.  Thinking about the things of God becomes easy.  I mean, there has got to be a reason Jesus took naps (in the middle of a storm?) and went off by himself to rest and be with God, right?

Now, I know the physical state of the body does not dictate the state of the mind and spirit, but a rested, healthy body certainly makes it much easier to be strong of mind and spirit.

And you know what?  I think God understands.  Because he experienced life in a physical body (through Jesus), I think he understands the mental and spiritual struggle of being physically tired and worn down. 

The take-away from this element: taking care of the physical body is important, especially since it can have such a huge impact on the mind and spirit.  On a personal note, this is definitely an area I could stand to improve upon.

God’s Strength in Our Weakness       

So far, I have focused on the human elements of mind, body, and spirit – mainly to investigate how they work together in our life.  But one thing I know cannot be left out of the equation is the presence of God and his strength being present in our weakness.

It is not possible for us to be strong in every area at every moment.  In fact, I would suggest that any moments when we are simultaneously strong of mind, body, and spirit are the beautiful exceptions. 

But what is more beautiful, is that we don’t have to be.  God knows our weaknesses and he understands.  He wants to help us.  He doesn’t get upset when we fall down before the finish line.  Unlike the rules of the race I was in, he is able to step in and lend us his strength to finish (in a spiritual sense, I believe that is exactly what he did in that moment for me).  God loves us so much that he gives of himself in the areas we lack.


What do you think?  Do these connections seem accurate?  Have you ever seen these elements play out in your life?


Final Notes

*When I use the word mind, I’m referring to both the intellectual and emotional elements of it.

** While I have been focusing on working out the connections between the mind, body, and spirit in this post, I also believe it is worthy to note that there are many times when a physical problem requires a physical solution, and times when a spiritual problem requires a spiritual solution.  For example, in the race I described earlier, no amount of will or believing could have made my legs hold up my body at that moment.  In order for that to happen, I needed rest, water, and nutrients – all physical remedies.  What do you think?

***Fun note on the image by extremis on Pixabay (featured at the top of this post): I don’t know where this picture was taken, but it looks very much like it could have been a picture from my high school cross country days.  I mean, the uniforms look pretty similar, the colors (red and white) are the same as my high school’s, and the course looks very much like the courses we would race on.


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