I’m on the countdown now. Two weeks until my next race, just a half marathon. Would I have ever thought I would put the word just in front of the words half marathon? Nope. Frankly those words were never even in my vocabulary. So…two weeks. My long runs are done and now it’s about nutrition, resting my body and a lot of thinking.
Unlike most races I have done in the past, I have done a lot of solo long training runs to prepare for this race. It has given me a lot of quiet time to think. Running gives me time to zone out of this busy world and spend time in my think tank, to reboot and refuel myself. I have been overwhelmed by the parallels I see in being prepared for an event of endurance and being prepared for the journey of life by training and exercising my faith.
Let’s divide a half marathon into four parts, essentially four 5ks. Our spiritual life can be divided into four parts as well. When we first come to Christ and put our faith in Him, it’s exhilarating. It becomes a mark on the timeline of our life and a starting point of an adventure of many unknowns. The only known is that there is a finish line marked by the death of our earthly body and eternity in heaven with Christ. Everything between this new birth and the earthly death is unknown. A new Christian is full of excitement about the faith they feel, their eyes sparkle in a new way and their smile may be a bit wider just begging everyone to smile back and share their excitement. It is a starting line of a whole new life in Christ. A new Christian basks in the glory they have come to know and time passes quickly as they seek to take in all that God has given them. New Christians may have some preconceived notions about what life may be like, but much remains a mystery.
The starting line of a race is thrilling. Energy, anxiety and apprehension are everywhere. My favorite part of a race is standing in the starting corrals and people watching. You see anything and everything…and it all makes me wonder how the world actually functions with the chaos known as humans running, pun intended, all over it. (Insert faith). Some people are jumping up and down, trying to get a glimpse of the start line chute and watching the ginormous race clock tick down. Some people are scared and it shows! I love listening to people blame each other for convincing them a race was a good idea. I quietly think to myself it is a good idea and they will be glad when they look back at the choice they made to go the distance. When the horn sounds and we cross the start line, the simultaneous chirping of people hitting start on their watches and the timing chips registering on the mat sends the masses off. We run, because that’s what our bodies have been trained to do. We dodge in and around people who clearly don’t understand how to correctly predict their finish time. Everyone keeps moving forward putting one foot in front of the other as our bodies have become accustomed. However, whether it is race day or a long training run, there is still an unknown factor. So we anxiously, and excitedly wonder what surprises this run holds for us.
After we come to know Christ intimately, we start experiencing life differently. Like a child in a sandbox full of hidden toys, we dig for what God has for us. As if looking at a picture of what we may find when we dig in the sand, we dig through His word desperately seeking that which other Christians have told us about. We ask questions, we take studies, we join small groups, we tell others about this amazing new life we have discovered. We want everyone to know how great the hidden treasure is and how it has transformed our life. We re-prioritize and eventually we kind of hit a groove. This new settled pace feels good. We relish in God’s multiple blessings and acknowledge Him as the creator of all that surrounds us.
In the second 5k of a race, we have made our way around the slower runners, figured out which side of the road we prefer and made it through a few water stops (realized if an unplanned pit stop is necessary from poorly planned hydration). We have adjusted our fuel belts, iPods and probably dropped a layer of clothing or wrapped it around our waist. The chatter is a bit quieter, but there is still great awareness of the surroundings. People are taking in the sights of the city, views of the lakes or ocean, waving to the crowds and even stopping to take pictures. In this part of the race we are settling into our pace, feeling good, feeling proud of the road that brought us to this point and unaware of challenges that might be ahead.
After we have publicly professed our faith and diligently followed Christ, there will come a time in every Christian’s life that we are challenged. Our groove and our plan is shaken, perhaps mildly, or perhaps to the core. It is the moment when we think life was supposed to be better with Christ. It is then that we realize these challenges are the same that are faced by everyone, Christian or not. The difference is that we are equipped with the whole armor of God. We cry out to God in despair and confusion. He reminds us, sometimes delicately and sometimes like thunder, that He has given us a shield of faith (Ephesians 6:16) , a helmet of salvation (Yes, God does have a sense of humor too) and a sword of the Spirit which is the word of God (Ephesians 6:17). Because we have been digging in the sandbox for His hidden treasures we remind ourselves to trust those treasures He gave us. We remind ourselves what He has taught us, to call upon His name, to cast our cares upon Him, because He cares for us (1 Peter 5:7). And guess what? Yep, He does exactly as He told us and Has written and He carries us through the storm. The time we spent in His word and in His presence has prepared us for the storm that He allowed to come our way. It is a test so that we have a testimony of faith to share. With Christ we will triumph, in the ways in which He has planned (Romans 5:1-5).
Once we cross the half way point in a half marathon, we start the third 5k and the countdown to the finish begins. These are dangerous miles. We know we can do it, because we have in the past and our well-trained body is familiar with the journey. Our heart is in it for the long haul and we want more than anything to finish what we started but the head games begin. The course begins taking on hills we did not plan for and some unknown spice from dinner last night is wreaking havoc on our stomach. The nagging hip or knee injury reappears. The crowds thin as people head for the finish line to save a coveted spot for the best photo-op. (It is perhaps at this point that some in my family might decide they need a skinny caramel macchiato, hold the whip, add cinnamon and miss the photo-op. Hope is was good, no grudges of course). This is when we face the dreaded wall and we dig deep, very very deep, as if there were Hershey’s toffee almond chocolate nuggets hidden among the toys in the sandbox. We know we have to dig deep within our soul and call on our hearts to overcome the mental and physical struggles of the moment. We concentrate on our breathing, we concentrate on lightening our steps, shortening our stride, shortening the swing in our arms and conserving energy. This is also when the number games start but our head has entered delirium and we are unable to accurately calculate. We start wondering when we ate our last energy shot, when we should eat the next one, what is our pace, what do we need our pace to be and most of all how am I going to get through this thing that some so-called friend convinced us was a good idea!? Then there is a switch that flips and we recall the training, we focus on the beat of the live bands, the beat of the music on our iPods or even the pattern of footprints ahead of us. We zone back in with only one focus; to finish. The finish may be glorious or it may be gory but we know we will finish.
After a Christian has known Christ intimately, trusted Him through heartache or tragedy and overcome because of His love, His promises and our faith, we know He will walk with us no matter the circumstances. We know that His love will overcome and that His ways are greater than our ways (Isaiah 55:8), we know that God works all things for good for those who love Him (Romans 8:28). We have also read the end of the book and we know that He is coming, His promises are true and those that keep His words are blessed (Revelation 22:7). We know that ultimately we win. We know that in all things, with Christ we are strong when we are full and when we are hungry. With Christ we are strong in abundance and in suffering. We know that with the strength of Christ, we can do all things (Philippians 4:12-13). We know, because He has shown us in the lives of others, and more personally in our own lives, that Christ will carry us through and we will be better because we trusted Him. We are able to wake up each day in the knowledge that God shares our burdens because we willingly surrender to His will. With Him, we win.
Once we cross the 10 mile mark and begin the last 5k of the half marathon it all feels do-able again. We are three-quarters of the way through, we bargain with our bodies to run mailbox to mailbox, block to block and water break to water break. Eventually we remember where we started, some time ago, eagerly crossing the starting line and anxious to conquer the course. We begin remembering that the faster we crawl, walk or run, the sooner it is all over and we can call ourselves finishers. And so we run, because that is what we have trained ourselves to do. We use the energy drawn up from digging deep and running smart and it’s time to give it all that is left and leave it all on the road. Head high, chest out, run tall and do what only a small percentage of people will do and become a race finisher. Time doesn’t matter, photo ops don’t matter and we gain momentum, pushing harder, stronger and faster. We pass that runner that we have watched from behind for far too long. We can’t hear the cheers, we can’t hear the music, we can’t see anything except the finish line clock digits when we make the final turn. This is the moment we spent months working for. No one will feel exactly the same, no emotion is exactly the same and no matter how many runners have crossed before, will cross with us or will cross after us, this is our moment to own. We are race finishers and we will never be quite the same.
Life is full of different races. Some we volunteer for, some we are convinced to do, some we are destined to do and some we crawl to in despair. The race begins with energy on a new-found path, anxious for good things, anxious for what people have told us is good and excited for the experience. Along the way we stumble over obstacles that make us stronger because we trust in knowledge we gained to get to this point. The roadblock itself is a journey and a lesson. When we turn back and look at the roadblock from the other side, we know why we stumbled before we got there. We know what gave us strength, we know Who to trust, we know where to cast our cares and we know the end of the story. We know the various journeys were all training sessions for this race and that if we trust what we have in the past, if we call on what we have been taught and if we call on our God who has brought us here, we will win. Sometimes the race is longer, sometimes it just feels longer. Sometimes the race is harder than we expected. Sometimes the lessons are smaller and those lessons prepare us for a greater test that makes our testimony greater and thus brings more to starting line.
The good news is that we all are offered this race of faith. All is takes is acceptance. It is worth repeating, I have read the end of the book, and this race of faith is much better than any other option, because I’m on the winning team. I know myself well enough to know that whatever I start, I like to finish well. I’m sticking with Whom I know while running this race of faith.
© Copyright Gatewood Campbell, October 2013