As I’ve mentioned before, running is my thing. Remember ninth grade, no hand-eye coordination? When I committed to training for a marathon last August, set the date for 2-20-11 and mapped out my training schedule, I thought it would be a no brainer.
Fast forward to race day. I am jogging down S. First, feeling good because it’s only mile four, it’s downhill, thank goodness, and I’m inching toward the skyline propped up in the distance. It’s here where the nerves start the fade, the dread of “I have 22 miles to go” sets in and I settle into a steady pace. It’s here where I started to talking to God, and He started talking to me (not in a Moses and burning bush sort of way, more like a quiet, steady “Let me remind you of my promises” sort of way).
As I’m trailing the girl in the pink tank top like a fly on honey (she had a good pace and looked like she knew what she was doing), I am struck that this race is sort of, at the risk of sounding overly dramatic, a spiritual pilgrimage for me. P.S. If you look up “pilgrimage,” it is a long journey. This was a long journey, all right. This 26.2 miles is the culmination of months of training, stretching, hurting, but at that point, I realize it’s just me and God on the pavement. And that’s how it should be.
During the course, I encounter hills I thought I could not surmount, straightaways to recover, crowds shouting so loud they propel me, long desolate stretches, mental highs and lows, bursts of energy and utter fatigue. It was hard and definitely not a no brainer. I had to tell myself over and over, “One foot in front of the other.” What a picture of life.
There was a time when I viewed life as a no brainer. Love God, work hard, everything will just rock along. (Insert sarcastic tone here) Had I ever talked to another human being? Did I ever watch the news? Did I really think I had it figured out? Really? (Remove sarcastic tone here)
As Paul says in Romans 7, “What a wretched man I am, but thanks be to God.” Yes, thanks be to God for being gracious and patient, when a little whippersnapper such as myself thinks I have everything figured out. Geez.
As you know, dear reader, life is much more than a no brainer. It hurts. It cuts you to the core. It defeats. But in the midst of the brokenness, there is sweetness that only God can bring.
In light of the running theme, I love how Paul puts it in Philippians 3:12-14. Maybe Paul was a runner?
“Not that I have already obtained all this, or have already been made perfect, but I press on to take hold of that for which Christ Jesus took hold of me. Brothers, I do not yet consider myself yet to have taken hold of it. But one thing I do: Forgetting what is behind and straining toward what is ahead, I press on toward the goal to win the prize for which God has called me heavenwards in Christ Jesus.”
If Paul had things figured out by society’s standards, he was the guy. He was like the super Jew, and had every reason to think so – circumcised on the eighth day, card holding member of the tribe of Benjamin, knew the law cover to cover, quite the Pharisee. He even said he was faultless, and he wasn’t playing around.
But back to Philippians chapter 3. He says, “Even though I have this ridiculous resume, and in my eyes, I was being a good person, turns out, I didn’t have it figured out.”
After Paul realized there was something much greater at work in this world and in his heart, he says, “But one thing I do. Just one. That’s it. I am going to forget what is behind and strain toward what is ahead. I am going to put one foot in front of the other and pursue God and what he has called me to do.”
God doesn’t promise in his Word that when I choose to follow him that life will just rock along – I’ll be extra blessed, Hallelujah and all that jazz. Quite the contrary. I am going to struggle. I am going to face things I wish I didn’t. And sometimes life is going to be amazingly fabulous and sometimes it’s going to really suck. But wherever I am on that spectrum, I have to trust that being where God wants me, even if it’s painful, has got to be better than anywhere else. It’s his strength, not mine, for sure not mine, that is going to get me to the finish line.
But how do we get to the finish? Sometimes I forget or am stubborn and God’s strength seems so far away. I trained for this marathon alone. It. Was. Tough. Ask my parents. At one point they picked up a lost little girl on the side of the road (I am ashamed to say, that was me). The entire race, I knew I had to get to mile 24 because that’s where my cheerleaders were. (Thank you so much for coming). Knowing they were sitting along Duval was a constant source of encouragement, pushing me to the finish.
We are not meant to live this life alone. What a sweet gift from God to have people in our life to know us, to point us to Him, to remind us of His truth.
So I survived the race, and hopefully you survived this marathon of a post. But if one thing sticks with me or with you, I hope it is this.
“But one thing I do: Forgetting what is behind and straining toward what is ahead, I press on toward the goal to win the prize for which God has called me heavenwards in Christ Jesus.”
Press on. One foot in front of the other. Just me and God on the pavement.