Running to Repentance
The cold winter day started just as every day did for John Smith—with an early morning run. This morning in particular, it was out at Cranes Roost Park in Altamonte Springs with an old friend, a former high school athlete, who still calls John “coach.” The pair used to see each other every day when John was the track and cross country coach at Ocoee High School, but these days they only see each other about once a year.
John, 29, husband and father of three, has been a runner ever since his senior year of high school.
“In the running culture, it is socially acceptable to be obsessive,” he said. “For a long time I had declared that I was obsessed with running, but that was normal. So were all my running buddies.”
His wife, Brittany, says the obsession with running was joked about at first. Running is exercise, so how bad could it be?
“There was a moment in particular where I mentioned to John that I thought maybe running was a problem,” she said. “But I felt like I had to support him as a healthy husband who has a great lifestyle, and not feel like a nagging wife. I felt unheard.”
Brittany’s concerns indeed fell on deaf ears as John reached as many as 70 miles a week while training for races. Although this led him to repeated injuries, he continued the vicious cycle. Brittany says John would go to bed before their young children did, just to be able to run early the next morning. She felt alone.
“I would be practically limping and still go out the door for a 10-mile run,” John said. “It was like I had to have it. I would almost have panic attacks on mornings that it rained or I had other obligations.”
It was that morning at Cranes Roost that God revealed something to John: He had a problem. Just minutes after saying goodbye to his friend, it hit him: John realized he had spent all of that valuable reconnection time talking about running.
“It was the following day or two that I really dug into the topic of exercise addiction. I found an article on it,” he said. “There was a questionnaire at the end of the article and I completed it. It was finally black and white. I was an exercise addict.”
On the questionnaire, John said yes to:
Missing important social and family obligations.
Only feeling content when exercising.
Liking exercise better than sex, good food, or a movie—there was nothing else he’d rather do.
But he also said yes to Summit’s reGROUP program.
“I was so on board and so relieved and excited for him,” Brittany said. “Running wasn’t unhealthy, but the way he was abusing it was.”
reGROUP is a Summit community of healing and hope for anyone whose behaviors may be hurting their relationships with others, themselves, or God. It took some digging for John to get to the root of the problem. After being in reGROUP for almost a month he was able to name his dependency: Identity.
“It had always been an identity for me,” John said. “It started with BMX back when I was 12. I was on a mission to get the affirmation I never received from my father.”
John has been in church since he was a baby, where the concept seemed simple: Follow the rules and be a good person.
“Confession was something I didn’t do very often because I was convinced that I didn’t really sin all that much,” John said.
It was the brokenness he felt after making bad choices, and a breakup at 19, that led him to the Savior.
“I finally felt the weight of my sin and my need for repentance, and grace became this beautiful picture in my life,” John said. “There was a freedom I had in that season of my life that I have looked back to regularly over the last 10 years. At the time, I was no longer seeking anyone’s approval of me. I clung to the cross.”
John graduated from reGROUP this past June. He says that this ministry has been the biggest blessing in his life. Herndon Campus Pastor, Zach Van Dyke, mentored John throughout the process, and he continually noticed how John was willing to dig into his sin and struggle.
“John never settled. Each insight was a doorway toward deeper repentance and dependence on God,” Zach said. “I went through the reGROUP process myself, but walking through it with John made me want to go back and do it again and go deeper.”
John says that for him, reGROUP wasn’t as simple as changing a behavior.
“For the first time in a long time, God has first place in my heart again,” John said. “And I have time and energy for family and friends, which is something I didn’t have before. If I had just stopped running, I would have turned to something else. reGROUP taught me to stop resisting and to accept who I am because God already has.”
If you ask Brittany, she says it simply: He’s finally free.
Whether it’s a current addiction or a past hurt; alcoholism, an eating disorder, or pornography; a loved one pleading with you or a voice in your head whispering for you—our recovery ministry, reGROUP, is a safe place for anyone who is ready to address whatever it is standing between you and the person God has created you to be.
Allison Hurtado became a journalist because she believes in providing news and information to the public and in the importance of telling people's stories. She and her husband, Josh, have been married five years, and began attending Summit about three years ago. They were looking for a church in their community, and so they checked out Summit and never looked back. Allison loves to cook, is obsessed with Pioneer Woman, has a rescue pup named Ellie who loves to sunbathe, and only barks at two things: church bells and birds (the dog, not Allison).