I’ve never run a marathon. I have friends who have. I have a good friend who ran and won his first marathon in June. I have mad respect for him and for all winners of marathons. I also have mad respect for the runners who cross the finish line last. The ones who keep going when everyone else has gone home. The ones who have to walk some of the way, the ones who fall and get back up, the ones who’ve messed themselves yet keep on going after the lights, cheering crowds and vendors have all gone home. If I ever run a marathon, those will be my peeps.
The journey of faith is often compared to a race. Mostly because Paul did it here and here along with other Biblical authors. Although even if they hadn’t made the comparison, we would have come up with that analogy on our own. We have a thing for sports metaphors and athletes who take a knee for Jesus.
I use to think running the race of faith well met crossing the finish line in the top third with the least amount of falls, scrapes and poop in my shorts.
Now, I think running the race well means savoring the run more than the finish.
I like going for walks with my niece and nephew. They help me walk differently. They force me to slow down. To literally stop and smell the roses. To study the bugs crawling across the ground. To touch the crunchy leaves of autumn and the soft petals of spring. They never ask me where the finish line is and they’re usually not in a hurry to finish the walk unless I’ve promised a trophy in the form of ice cream. Mostly, they just want to make the most of the adventure together.
I think running the race with Jesus is more like walking with my niece and nephew. Jesus and I run and walk side by side. I listen to His breathing, His heartbeat, His steps and without realizing it, our breathing and our strides become one. I follow His glances to see the world around us alive with His glory, His beauty, His lavish gifts of love. He makes us lie down beside still waters for rest. He leads us to come alongside another runner to offer encouragement; to another, a drink of water and a listening ear. To be honest, a lot of the time we just run in silence, overwhelmed with gratitude and peace at just being together.
And sometimes, I whine all day. Or fake a cramp in my side and ask to take a breather. Or refuse to look at one single flower because my entire focus is on how much my feet hurt. And I swear if Jesus doesn’t stop whistling “Just a Closer Walk with Thee” ….
Sometimes, I think I hear Jesus mumble under his breath, “I swear to my Father in Heaven that if you don’t get it together, there will be one set of footprints on this road – MINE as I leave your self-absorbed butt sitting in the dirt.” Of course, he doesn’t leave me. He willingly shackled himself to me back at mile 8 and although I’m like a dead weight some days, we’re in this together.
And I think that is the point of running the race well.
We are in this together. Through the climbs and the descents. Through the fields of flowers and the stretches of dirt. Through the epic sprints and the epic falls. Through the solo runs and the huddled masses. Through the build ups and the melt downs.
We are in this together. Jesus and me. You and I. Jesus and you.
Let’s stop and smell some roses. Maybe rest under a shade tree and listen to some Jesus stories together. Let’s find our stride and sync our heartbeats to Jesus and one another. Let’s run the race set before us well. The finish will be there. No need to sweat it.
Here is a great quote from Henri Nouwen that I’ve been reflecting on this week:
More and more, the desire grows in me simply to walk around, greet people, enter their homes, sit on their doorsteps, play ball, throw water, and be known as someone who wants to live with them. It is a privilege to have the time to practice this simple ministry of presence. Still, it is not as simple as it seems.
My own desire to be useful, to do something significant, or to be part of some impressive project is so strong that soon my time is taken up by meetings, conferences, study groups, and workshops that prevent me from walking the streets. It is difficult not to have plans, not to organize people around an urgent cause, and not to feel that you are working directly for social progress. But I wonder more and more if the first thing shouldn’t be to know people by name, to eat and drink with them, to listen to their stories and tell your own, and to let them know with words, handshakes, and hugs that you do not simply like them, but truly love them.
And here is an amazing study about how choirs sync their heartbeats together.