The March for Life isn’t just a political protest but a marathon! Literally. My friends at Life Runners take that seriously and are holding the Inaugural Nellie Gray 5K Run/Walk with Kids 1K Fun Run Saturday morning in Washington, after the March today. Jeff Grabosky is co-director of the event and author of Running with God Across America, about his run across the continential United States and what he learned from it. He talks about the book, prayer, and marathons — including the ultimate one:
KJL: Why would God ever want or need anyone to run across America, which is your contention about His will for you?
JEFF GRABOSKY: I believe God has a plan for us all and that we have each been gifted with certain talents. I felt that through prayer, I was being called to run across America for God. This world is experiencing a lot of trouble, sadness, and immorality. God calls us all to be closer to Him and to draw others in that same direction. I believe God wanted me to run across America in prayer to bring myself and others closer to Him. While certainly a big endeavor, it is no more important than all the small ways in which we can show the love of Christ for others each and every day.
KJL: How can running be redemptive?
GRABOSKY: I love running and it is such a great sport. However, runners do struggle and suffer when we really push ourselves. I believe that Christ gave us the perfect example of suffering in order to redeem us. Being members of the Body of Christ, we are called to take up our crosses and follow him. There is great power in offering up our discomfort and pain for others. I believe God can use this suffering to bring both ourselves and those we offer up our discomfort for, closer to Him.
KJL: “It took a complete collapse of my life to bring me to the point of asking the Lord to place me where he wanted me to be. I meant it with all my heart. I desperately wanted to hear an answer to the prayer -– I felt I had nothing else to live for but that answer.” Isn’t that just what someone says when he no longer has a plan? How did you know it to be from God?
GRABOSKY: The collapse of my life was what it took for me to see that I had been living for me. I realized how focused I was on attaining material wealth and comforts while drifting further away from my faith and from helping others. I longed to have a better prayer life and to live in accordance with my beliefs. The answers I felt to this prayer all led me to helping others. The way things lined up in my career, my running endeavors, and my prayer life was so perfect that I had to believe it was from God.
LOPEZ: “I thought that if I could get through the physical struggle of running then perhaps I could also make it through the struggles of my life.” But, as hard as it is, it’s just running. Does it really translate to the everyday?
GRABOSKY: I really struggled to get running again and I simply wanted to give up when it became uncomfortable. This feeling is similar to what many people experience when they have to continue fighting their daily battles even though they would prefer to quit. I know it is what I felt when experiencing my own trials. However, I developed a stronger sense of purpose and belief in myself by pushing through those runs, often in prayer. It was during my runs that I experienced this newfound element of perseverance. By experiencing a renewed sense of purpose with this perseverance, I believed I could use these same characteristics to get through the difficulties in my life.
KJL: Eventually, I told the Lord once again to make my life an instrument of his peace. I no longer cared about my personal dreams. I felt that I was chasing my own ideas of success.” What’s wrong with having dreams?
GRABOSKY: I believe it is great to have dreams and goals. The issue I had in my life is that I had set my own dreams apart from God and apart from helping those around me. My dreams were selfish and not in conjunction with the gifts God had given me. I realized that God has our best interests in mind and that He only wants the best for us. If I prayed about and followed His will instead of mine, I believed things would not always be easy, but that in the end I would be very happy and at peace.
KJL: At one point you write that “I felt like God was drawing me closer to him.” What does that feel like? How would you ever know that?
GRABOSKY: There are so many distractions in this world that act as a barrier between us and God. There were parts of me that wanted to focus on satisfying desires of this world. Through prayer, I was able to let go of those desires and instead focus on serving others, following God’s plan, and living for what truly matters. My hope and desire to is to live this life in such a way that I can spend eternity with God and help others to do the same. We are called to die to ourselves and to follow Christ. This is a constant battle and a very difficult thing to do, but I feel drawn closer to God when I let go of my worldly longings and focus on following Christ.
KJL: What did you learn about prayer from your mother?
GRABOSKY: I grew up watching my mother pray. She prayed not only at Mass, but when she ran and throughout the five years she battled cancer. I witnessed how even in the midst of great trials, she had such a sense of peace. There is no doubt in my mind this peace came from her prayer life and being close to the Lord. My mother taught me that just because we pray and believe in God, life will not always be easy. However, it keeps our focus on what is truly important and we can have great peace in our lives regardless of the struggles we have to face.
KJL: What did you learn about the power of prayer during the run?
GRABOSKY: I learned during the run that prayer is incredibly powerful. There were so many times I wanted to quit. It was in praying for strength for myself and in praying for people who were truly struggling that somehow I was able to continue running. The challenges I faced along the way ranged from loneliness to being unable to use my legs at one point. Through it all I prayed for others and there were countless people praying for me. I am convinced it was only through prayer and the grace of God that I was able to complete my run across America.
KJL: Do you really know your run brought people closer to God?
GRABOSKY: If nothing else, I know this run brought me closer to God. I truly desired it to lead others towards the Lord. While I do not need to know if it brought others closer to God as well, I have received many messages from people that it has. I have heard from people that it has reminded them to pray and some have told me they started praying the rosary after years away from it. Others have sent me emails saying their prayers have been answered or they were inspired to focus on their faith and what is really important in life. Even if someone who heard my story was not religious, I believe being a good example in the midst of the society we live in is so important.
KJL: Why is gratitude important?
GRABOSKY: I always think of the story of the ten lepers who were healed by Jesus when I think of gratitude because only one of those cured came back to thank Jesus. We are told to give thanks to God in everything we do. I know I am so blessed and everything I have is from God. It makes me so happy when I can praise God and thank him by my actions, even moreso than my words.
KJL: “Do not pray for easy lives. Pray to be stronger men,” you quote Phillips Brooks, the Episcopal bishop. Is that important at a time where it’s real tempting to only go to God.” What does that mean in our culture today? Where who God is and what his role in our lives is a controversial issue at best. And what it is to be a man seems up in the air.
GRABOSKY: I love this quote by Phillips Brooks because it embodied how I used to think and then how I think now. I often prayed for smooth sailing. Now I pray for strength because I know I can do nothing apart from God. I have no doubt that God will give us the grace necessary to be as strong as we need to be to get through any storm we may face in this life. Trials, difficulties, and suffering as a whole sound terrible. However, it seems all the saints had trials to go through and they came out stronger and holier than before their difficulties. I believe these times in life help us grow closer to the Lord than if everything was always simple and easy. Looking back on my life to this point, it has been the trials that have defined me more than the joyous occasions. I now pray for my life to serve the Lord’s purpose.
KJL: What is the Nellie Gray 5K?
GRABOSKY: The Nellie Gray 5K is a race put on by the LIFE Runners in partnership with the March for Life in Washington, DC. It is named to honor the memory of Nellie Gray, who defended the sanctity of life for many years through the March for Life. The purpose of the race is to promote the sanctity of life from conception until natural death. The LIFE Runners are a group whose members run, pray, and fundraise for pro-life. Although members run races in their geographical area, the LIFE Runners are quickly growing through efforts of a team race once a year, a relay across America, and the inaugural Nellie Gray 5K!
KJL: Whatever does running have to do with abortion, building a culture of life, or helping anyone?
GRABOSKY: Running is a talent and passion for many people. We are all called to use the gifts God gave us to help others. I don’t see any better way to help others than to try to give life to the most innocent of us — the unborn. The world is a place that tells us to take care of ourselves and to do what feels good. By using a talent someone has for running to help others, they are truly changing the world.
KJL: “It was amazing how taking the focus off myself and placing it on those in need helped me to get through my own struggles,” you write. And: “It seemed to me that the more I removed myself from the distractions of everyday life… the more I was able to concentrate on and devote myself to prayer.” So how do you do that everyday in the world?
GRABOSKY: Making time to concentrate and devote myself to prayer as well as removing myself from daily distractions was relatively easy to do while running for eight hours per day. It is significantly more difficult to do these same things in the everyday world. I struggle with it to this day and have come to the conclusion that there is no easy way to do it. We simply have to make a choice that it is important and it requires sacrifice. We may have to wake up early to pray the rosary, turn off the radio and pray during our commute, or give up free time on the weekend to help those in need. I have learned that each time I make that sacrifice, I receive much more than I gave up. It is a beautiful thing and I know that we will all be blessed for giving back to God the time and talents that have been given to us.