By Jayne Davis
“Let us run with endurance the race that is set before us.”
— Hebrews 12:1b
Running a 5K on the first weekend in January is not ideal, even in the South. It can be a bit brisk, to say the least. But it was my husband’s birthday and he wanted to run, so my daughter, her boyfriend and I signed up, safety pinned numbered bibs to the front of our shirts, and took our place in the crowd at the starting line of the New Year’s Romp to benefit Communities in Schools.
Those who were hoping to run personal best times were invited closer to the front of the pack. The rest of us finished our bagels, put down our coffee and made our way toward the back of the group.
I didn’t expect much out of the morning beyond some extra time with family and helping out a good cause. But the starting gun went off and I ran the race that was set before me. For 30 minutes and 11 seconds I thought about Paul’s words from Hebrews. Each time the air in my lungs felt a bit cold, each time my legs started feeling heavy, I wondered what pushing myself for 3.1 miles could teach me about the Christian life. I crossed the finish line with the fastest time for the “older” women (a distinction which felt more satisfying on paper when they posted the results than it did when they announced my age over the loud speaker), and some new insights on the spiritual practice of running the race.
Know what pace will take you to the finish line. I have a bad habit of starting out too fast and then have nothing left by mile two. My friend Burt is a better runner than I am and keeps a steady 10-minute mile pace. I knew if I hung close to Burt, I would do well in the race.
It’s easy to look at other Christians or other churches and feel the pressure to run our race the way they run theirs. It is particularly tempting to try to keep up with those who are running the fastest, those out front. Trust me, I know. It’s hard to be passed by a mom pushing a stroller, or a fourth grader, or a friend of your grandmother. Their abilities and success can inspire us to run our best race, but we’ll get into trouble if we try to match a pace we can’t sustain.
Go the second mile. I’m always amazed that I run a faster time for the second mile than I do for the first. Lots of people do. Your muscles get warmed up during that first mile. You get into a groove. In life, too often, we give up before we ever get to mile two. We get winded a half mile in and we decide we’re not suited for this job or this ministry or this spiritual discipline and we stop running before we hit our stride.
Cheerleaders are important! There’s nothing like getting half way up a steep hill and hearing someone yell from the curb, “Great job! You’re almost there!” Or having a complete stranger smile and high five you as you turn the course to the last half mile stretch before the finish line. Even the recorded voice on my smartphone tells me I’m awesome as I complete each mile. I think she means it.
What would happen if we did more of that in church? High fives as folks come forward with their offerings might be too much, but who knows? Life gets tough along the way. We get weary and weak at times, and wonder if what we’re doing really matters to anyone. Encouragement and affirmation lighten our spirit and call out our strength. They celebrate the little mile markers of the journey, not withholding cheers for only the very few who will break the tape at the finish line. Most importantly, words of encouragement and affirmation remind us that we do not run this race alone. We need one another to finish well.
Let us run with endurance the race that is set before us. Whether your race is measured by a digital clock down to the hundredth second or by the hearts and lives of those you impact along the way — run it well.
“When I run, I feel God’s pleasure.”
— Eric Liddell