Therefore we also, since we are surrounded by so great a cloud of witnesses, let us lay aside every weight, and the sin which so easily ensnares us, and let us run with endurance the race that is set before us. Hebrews 12:1
The idea had been brewing in my mind for about a year. Not exactly sure how it started, but I do remember casually saying that it'd be fun to run a half marathon with my 11-year-old nephew/distance-running phenom. When he ended up running his first 13.1 mile race earlier this year without me, I felt the need to complete one myself to somehow fulfill my end of the bargain so to speak. Ok, ok...I also felt the need to beat my nephew's under-2-hour race time, but that's not the point. Seventeen weeks of training later, I finally crossed the finish line this past Sunday. Beautiful course, big support from my family, and not as brutal wear and tear on my body as I expected. It was an overall great experience and one that deserves some thoughtful reflection. So here goes some race reflections fresh of the course...
CHEERLEADERS & REFRESHERS
If you've ever participated in an organized race, you're familiar with the positioning of "Aid Stations" along the race course. About every 2.5 miles, there were volunteers holding out cups of water and electrolyte drinks for runners. But hydration wasn't the only aid they offered. You could hear them from 20 yards out whooping and cheering. "Way to go!" "Keep it up!" "You guys are awesome!" For having set up before sunrise and standing in the 50 degree morning chill for a couple hours, these aid station volunteers were brimming with energy and enthusiasm. For what? For me. For the other runners. For people headed toward a destination and goal they could support even without a deep, personal connection. Those volunteers didn't know me from Adam, but they knew where I was going and wanted to help me get there.
I think there's a metaphor for the role of God's church here. The church ought to be strategically positioned, constantly on the look out for those trying to run life's race with endurance. We don't need to overthink how to help people along.
Sometimes the basic need for refreshment and encouragement just to keep moving forward is the most helpful blessing we can offer.
At various points in the race, I settled into a running pace I felt I could maintain for the next stretch of miles. After a while, there were shirt-backs a few seconds in front of me that I grew familiar with. They were other runners, strangers, people I hadn't come to the race with. But by virtue of their presence on the course and our matching paces, I was running with them whether they knew it or not. At one point, one of those runners -- we'll call him "blue-shirt guy" -- slowed down to walk for a bit. When he later caught up to me, blue-shirt guy crowded my space a little and apologized. Between breaths I said, "No worries man. You're my pacer." And he shot back, "I was going to say the same about you!"
I think we can all relate to times when we've felt alone on our spiritual journey, disconnected, isolated, as though our actions aren't impacting anyone for better or worse. But what if we're never really alone? What if our mere presence on the course is helping someone else keep running?
You may not feel like you're directly impacting someone else'e spiritual journey, but your life is observed and bears an influence nonetheless.
Whether or not we're giving someone Bible studies or actively engaged in a mission project, we can live the everyday and ordinary in such a way as to help others keep running.
Every mile along the race course, there were mile-markers, signs indicating to the racers how far we had come. Consequently, these signs indicated how far we had left to go. I had the advantage of having my phone app audibly telling me my mileage, so I didn't pay a ton of attention to the visual signs...until the 13th mile. After I had crossed mile-marker 12, my body was feeling it. Though my stride wasn't slowing, it was definitely shortening. My feet were burning and tummy growling...I even started asking myself where we were going to eat after the race. People were passing me. I was getting distracted and weary. That 13th mile was by far the hardest. My phone display gave me numbers to know how much course I had left, but it was in that last stretch that my eyes needed something concrete to be fixed on. Someone's shirt back wouldn't do. I needed to see the finish line. I remember looking and looking...and when I couldn't see it, I became discouraged. I checked my phone -- 12.82 miles and counting. I knew I was close, but I sure didn't feel close. It just so happened that the course, which had been following a road the entire race, turned off into a field for the last 100 feet...just beyond a grove of trees that blocked my view of the finish line from even a quarter-mile out.
I discovered that signs really do matter. Visuals. Indications that we're closing in on our destination. Signs seem to take on an even greater level of necessity the closer we get to our goal and the more weary we become on our journey. I think that's why Jesus has been so gracious to give us signs of His return (cf. Mt. 24, Lk. 21). And my, oh my, how those signs are increasing in frequency and intensity! But even more than the signs in the religious, political, social, natural dimensions of reality, I am persuaded that the "sign of the Son of Man" Himself (Mt. 24:30) is the most motivating of them all. While I was looking for the finish line banner at the end of the race, what I especially hoped to see were the familiar faces of my wife and kids. Take a look again at the verse quoted at the top of the post along with its subsequent verse:
1 Therefore, since we are surrounded by such a great cloud of witnesses, let us throw off everything that hinders and the sin that so easily entangles. And let us run with perseverance the race marked out for us, 2 fixing our eyes on Jesus, the pioneer and perfecter of faith. For the joy set before him he endured the cross, scorning its shame, and sat down at the right hand of the throne of God. Hebrews 12:1-2, NIV
Fixing our eyes on Jesus...maybe He's the real finish line. More than a destination to get to or a goal to achieve, when we're able to set our eyes the Person to know and love, we'll find ourselves running with endurance all the way to the end.