…let us run with perseverance the race marked out for us. Let us fix our eyes on Jesus, the author and perfecter of our faith, who for the joy set before Him endured the cross, scorning its shame, and sat down at the right hand of the throne of God. Consider Him who endured such opposition from sinful men, so that you will not grow weary and lose heart.” (Hebrews 12: 1 – 3)
Two weeks ago Sunday, I ran (…err, half walked…) The Teanaway Trail Marathon.
Let’s just say I was in relatively good shape for the race about 6 weeks ago. Let’s just say that my training took a nosedive since then. Let’s just say this allowed me to fully take in the scenery of this trailed, 26.2 mile course…for nearly 6 hours.
In addition, the day of the race was around 93 degrees (by body is used to something more around 63). The race itself was at a higher elevation than my sea-level lungs are used to, I had a chest cold that was just beginning to recede, and my asthma was acting up.
I don’t list all these things to complain, but as context for why the verse above jumped out at me when I read it this morning.
While “running” (if my pathetic shuffle can be called such) this race, I reached a point, (somewhere around mile 16) of extreme negative headspace. Everything hurt. I felt dehydrated, and I was having trouble breathing - a sensation which is both frustrating and frightening. I could hardly face the reality of “10 more miles to go!” Forget the fact that I had already come 16 … 10 more was an impossibility. I couldn’t go on. I would have to quit.
But, of course, you don’t actually quit. You just complain about how much you want to quit for miles and miles.
Although I didn’t read this verse until after the race, I feel that God instilled it in my heart at this moment in the marathon, the nugget truth of it, and now the marathon experience and this verse are fused together as a sermon He wished to speak into my life through a very tangible experience. As an act of praise to Him who makes His Word the living Word as we are living life, I’m sharing it with who ever reads this in case it offers encouragement to you.
When I reached this quitting point in my mind, feeling more miserable than I have been in quite a long time (not since another marathon I had to walk most of…), I began the effort of fixing my eyes on something else…anything else, really.
Fortunately, in this case, that was rather easy. I was running on trails in a forested landscape – which is my personal Disneyland. This marathon course was two 13.1 mile laps of the same thing. Normally, that would seem mentally defeating for me, but in my case it was marvelous because I mostly ran the first lap and then I ran / walked the entire second lap, treating it more as a hike to take in the scenery than a run.
My negativity and complaining mindset came on in waves. And, when it did, I tried to focus on the fact that I was running in a place I always dream of running in, I began to look at the mountains in the distance, the forest I was surrounded by, the river running off to the side of the course. I tried to drink it all in with my eyes, give thanks for it, savor it, breath it in (even though I could hardly breath in general).
Going back to the verse – our life circumstances quite often feel like a marathon that we weren’t prepared for or were under-trained for, don't you think? We reach points in which it seems impossible that we can make it through the course set out ahead of us. It doesn't matter how far we've come, what lies ahead between where we are at the moment and where me must journey to is simply impossible. Quitting whatever that is, or just standing still, seems the most appealing thing in the universe. But, you don’t have to keep moving. Even if you can only inch forward, the moving forward is the thing.
Fortunately, God gives us great direction on how to persevere in such drowning circumstances – fix our eyes on Christ. Just as fixing my eyes on the scenery helped redirect my thoughts from defeatism, so does fixing our eyes on Jesus in the difficult “races” of our life help us make it through, make it forward, and not give up. By considering all He has done for us, all He endured and persevered through, we can gain hope (or at least a distraction from our personal and present difficulties) to make it through our own endurance trials.
I am not saying the “fixing our eyes” advice is easy. Not as simple as flipping a switch. It wasn’t easy in the marathon I ran, and it most certainly is not easy in life. It is a rather a two–steps–forward–one(or more)– steps–back kind of progression. But it is progression in the end, and certainly better than just sitting down, stopping, quitting.
This might read silly, this might sound corny, or cliché, or “easy for you to say,” but it is worth a try. And when I was running that marathon, I was desperate for anything that would keep me from quitting, and fixing my eyes on God’s creation around me, fixing my focus on praise rather than complaints…well…it didn’t hurt, and I didn’t quit.