Scripture Reading: 2 Timothy 4:1-22, Deuteronomy 31:6-8, 1 Corinthians 9:24-27
I’ve run exactly one marathon—actually, a half marathon. It was the winter of 2012, a mild winter, and most mornings, I could survive my five-mile training run with no more than leggings, a long-sleeved shirt, and a hat to keep the wind off my ears. The online guide I’d printed out for first-timers alternated short runs with longer ones, and as I checked the calendar, I realized I was about to hit a new milestone: six miles. I’d never run that far in my life. Every time I passed the five-mile marker, I started walking. That was enough right? Why go further?
My mind told my limbs that it was too hard, too boring. And so I stopped. Nashville has a renowned running club, which offered half-marathon training, and I knew if I had any chance at hitting my goal, I needed help.
The following Sunday morning, I showed up to the running club, amazed that there were so many, like me, who needed the help of others. A short Indian man led my pace pack, and when I fell out (at mile five, again) he fell back with me, using his watch to push me to run for a minute, walk for a minute, until my body overpowered my mind. Within a few weeks, I was running seven miles, then ten. And though I was slow, I persisted.
Running is such an easy metaphor because it is so applicable to our life as Christians. Living a life of self-control and faith can leave us asking, “Why?” What’s the point of waiting until marriage, when there’s so much romance and sex to be had now? What’s the point of trusting in God, when things aren’t going the way you’d planned anyway? What’s the point of staying married, when the days blend together, one never-ending drone of laundry to wash, messes to clean, and cooking to complete? The mundane rhythms of a faithful life are like the pain of a solitary run—one foot after another, breathing, willing yourself not to stop, or to be diverted to another path. It’s not easy, and most of the time, it’s not fun. But it is worth it.
Paul tells Timothy not to grow discouraged in his particular race. Persist, he says, whether it is convenient or not. In fact, I’d venture to say that persistence is most evident when it’s not convenient. When life gets boring and painful, like a long and solitary run, we are so quick to turn for relief, for permission to stop, for a detour. We itch to hear some new truth that indulges our desire for comfort. But our comfort isn’t in the race ending; our comfort comes in the form of great partners, running at our side.
For a while, Timothy had Paul by his side, like my friend in the running club, offering advice, encouraging him onward. But Paul knew his race was nearly finished. As death lingers in the near future, Paul tells Timothy that he will have to go on alone. But even alone, we are not alone. Paul tells him, “Everyone deserted me, but the Lord stood with me” (2 Timothy 4:16).
I do not know what particular race this day holds for you. This month. This year. Perhaps you are staring at the uphill climb of divorce, a valley of infertility, or the flat plains of our mundane world. Run, my friend. Run slow, if you have to. Enjoy your Christian running mates, if and when they are there. And when they are gone, run, knowing that Jesus is by your side.
Claire Gibson is a writer whose work has been featured in publications including The Washington Post and Entrepreneur Magazine among many others. An Army kid who grew up at West Point, New York, Claire is currently growing roots in Nashville, Tennessee, with her husband, Patrick, their son, Sam, and their dog, Winnie. Her debut novel, Beyond the Point, will be published next year.