This morning, I overhead some crazy talk. One of the the girls at physical therapy said, “I had the urge to go on a run last night.” Yeah, you heard right. Then, she proceeded to explain that “a run” meant six miles. You may be one of those people who loves to run. I am not. Every fiber of my being resists “the urge.”
Still, there was that one time.
In fall of 2006, a friend pushed me to train for a half-marathon – that’s 13.1 miles (but who’s keeping count). There were about five months to train before the race. No big deal, except I wasn’t a runner. I hate running!
For some reason that I’m still trying to decipher, I took the bait. I began training. I suckered another friend into this little adventure. (That part wasn’t as hard as it sounds. I think she’s one of those who gets “the urge” to run.) I joined a group. I was slow. Very slow. If I had been at Hogwarts, the tortoise would have been my Patronus. (Is there an animal slower than a tortoise? Yes? Okay, then that’s my Patronus.)
As the training runs became longer, I was overjoyed to add two new
elements to my training routine – early mornings and winter weather. Remind me one day to tell you the story of how much I love early mornings and winter weather.
I’d hit the trifecta!
Running miles. . .
before sunrise . . .
in the cold.
After about five months of training, race day arrived. With thousands of other runners, my friend and I lined up to start the race. Given that we’d never run a half-marathon (and I’m certain that race organizers did not expect to see me across the finish line), our “starting line” was what felt like a mile from the official start.
Luckily, that distance wasn’t added to our official race course. Rather, each runner’s time started once they crossed the official starting line and ended when they crossed the finish line. Despite these staggered starts into account, we were all headed toward the same finish. Yet, we all completed the course in different times.
Some runners likely did not finish. For some, a twisted ankle or pulled hammy may have put an early end to their race. For a long time, I’ve looked at untimely death this way. In my mind, my brothers and my daughter had their races cut short. The circumstances of life robbed them of reaching the finish line. Even my dad at age 56 didn’t seem to get a chance to catch stride before his race was over.
What if I have it all wrong? What if their races weren’t cut short? What if they were assigned a spot only a half-mile back from the official start? What if they caught stride, racked up a personal best, and finished the race as planned?
The apostle Paul analogized this life to running a race when he wrote to the Corinthians – “Do you not know that in a race all the runners run, but only one gets the prize? Run in such a way as to get the prize. Everyone who competes in the games goes into strict training. They do it to get a crown that will not last, but we do it to get a crown that will last forever.” (1 Corinthians 9:24-25 NIV) The Corinthians would have understood the arduous training that went into competing in the Olympic Games. Even in the first Century, they spent months preparing for the grueling games.
What if their spirits had been stricter in training? What if their spirits were simply freer and faster than mine?
Back in February 2007, there were points along the race course, when I was ready to join the race organizers in their doubt as to my finishing the race. There are points along the way where the finish line was hidden from sight. You knew it was there. We kept running the direction of the arrows, but when were we gonna get there? It felt like someone was playing a cruel joke pushing the line further and further back as we kept trying to move forward. Our bodies ached. As we each took turns questioning the choice to run the stupid race, the other took a turn in the role of encourager.
Around mile 12, we turned a corner – literally. At that moment, we could see the Louisiana Superdome where the finish line was located. The finish line wasn’t quite visible, but we knew where to find it. While I may never have experienced a “runner’s high” (probably the reason why I don’t like running), I definitely caught a second wind that day. No more questions. No more doubts. Nothing was going to stop us now.
After months of running on cold, dark mornings, I knew that I had everything it took to run – one more mile.
That’s kinda where so many of us are in the marathon of life. We are limping along injured and feeling defeated. Our twisted ankles, scraped knees, and bruised feelings threaten our resolve to finish the race. Life’s obstacles rip through the rugged treads of hearts breaking our stride.
Don’t despair, friend. Just one more mile. And if necessary – one more mile after.
As my friend and I crossed the finish line of the Mardi Gras Half-Marathon, a volunteer put a medal over our necks and our families put their arms around our sweaty bodies. We’d done it! The elation that I felt in that moment is but a shadow of the joy that will indwell us for eternity when we cross heaven’s finish line. That is worth one more mile.
Near the end of his life, Paul shared insight about finishing the race with his young friend, Timothy, writing, “I have fought the good fight, I have finished the race, I have kept the faith.” (2 Timothy 4:7). As he finished his race, Paul was looking forward to that moment when instead of a volunteer with a medal, he would come face-to-face with our Lord. He longed to hear Jesus say, “Well done, my good and faithful servant. . . . Come and share your master’s happiness.” (Matthew 25:21)
What if they crossed heaven’s finish line to hear “Well done, my good and faithful servant?” What if they have already been invited to share the Master’s happiness? Who joined Jesus to encourage their last few steps and to welcome them across the finish?
The hope of eternal joy is meant to be our second wind at mile 12. That is the promise with the power to push us one more mile.
Dear Father, we can’t run this race alone. No matter how strict our training, we meet obstacles that throw us off course and threaten our finish. Our fellow racers vanish from our sides. We feel alone. Many days, there is no energy for racing. When we do muster strength, the finish line seems to dance in and out of the horizon – taunting us. We need the one and only “Second Wind” that can get us past mile 12. We need your Spirit.
Thank You for never leaving our sides. Thank You for sending your Son to run ahead so that the promise of eternal joy awaits us at the finish line. With your help, one day we too will be greeted with the sweet sound of “Well done, my good and faithful servant.” We pray that each and every one of our loved ones who have run ahead heard the sweet sound of those words as they received a “crown that will last forever.”
Your unfailing promise and unending love alone are sufficient to form the hope that stirs us to strap on our sneakers each day to run – one more mile. Amen!