Twenty years ago I ran my first and only marathon. I trained hard. I ran the twisty, hilly roads of New England for months, building strength and endurance, increasing my mileage bit by bit. When race day came I was ready.
Or so I thought.
The race didn’t go as I’d planned. It was unnaturally hot that October day. Around mile 15, as the temperature soared into the mid-eighties, my energy began to flag. By mile 18 I was dehydrated, breathing heavily and stumbling. My head throbbed to the beat of every step upon the pavement; my lower back seared; my stomach churned and lurched. I could not for the life of me imagine running eight more miles. I could not for the life of me imagine running eight more feet.
I made it to mile 25 of the 26.2-mile race, and then I gave up. I spotted a first aid tent at the side of the road and pitched myself onto a cot. One mile from the finish line, I quit.
I did a lot of things wrong in that race. I didn’t drink nearly enough water. I started out too fast. I walked when I simply should have slowed my pace. But my biggest mistake by far was that I lost my focus.
I was so distracted by my pain and suffering and the relentless journey ahead, I lost sight of the goal. I didn’t keep my sights and my mind set on the finish line.
It’s pretty easy for me to roll along all faith-full and Jesus-focused when life is going well. But when things start to get a little ugly? When disease descends or someone I love dies or the kids are driving me bananas or my dream splinters into shards at my feet – when the journey doesn’t turn out as I had desired or expected? That’s when I struggle to keep my focus on God.
Distracted by my pain and suffering, my disappointment and frustration, I lose sight of the goal. I’m thirsty, tired, worn-out, discouraged. My vision blurs, my focus turns inward and I lose sight of God in the midst of the tumult. I want to quit.
Notice what the writer of Hebrews tells us. “Run with endurance the race God has set before us,” he urges. But he doesn’t simply leave us with that vague directive; he goes on to tell us exactly how to run that kind of race:
“We do this by keeping our eyes on Jesus, the champion who initiates and perfects our faith.” (Hebrews 12:2)
It’s not easy. Life throws us curveballs; our plans don’t fall into place as we imagined or anticipated. But focusing on that which trips us up – pain, grief, anger, sickness, suffering – instead of on Jesus, the perfecter of our faith, makes the journey that much more difficult.
Twenty years ago I lay on a cot in the shade of the first aid tent as the marathon runners rounded the last corner and turned toward the final stretch. I sipped water and nibbled a cracker, and as the minutes ticked past, my befuddled brain began to clear. I could almost see the finish line from where I lay. I was barely more than a mile from completing the race.
And so, with the goal clearly in sight once again, I set down my plastic cup, stood up and brushed the saltine crumbs from my lap. And then I took a deep breath, stepped off the curb and finished the race.
Linking up with Kelli’s Monday community, Unforced Rhythms.