I ran the first race of my life a few weeks ago. I still can’t believe I did it. Now, before you get too impressed with my athletic feats realize that my race wasn’t a marathon, or even half of one. In fact, it wasn’t even a half of a half. It was only a 10K, but my friend and I did run the entire time. To be candid, I was impressed with myself…especially since less than a year ago, I couldn’t have even run ONE mile, even if hungry bears were chasing me. But come race day, I ran SIX of them! And even though I knew I was signing up to run in a race, I never imagined all the life lessons running would teach me about the Christian walk.
Life Lesson #1: Consistency is half the battle.
In running, consistency is key. Any runner will attest to this. When my friends and I were training for our race, we really had to run certain miles on certain days or we wouldn’t be able to reach our goal when the day of the race dawned. We weren’t going to be able to wake up that day and just run the 6.22 miles, unless we had consistently worked our bodies up to that level of endurance. Our time didn’t have to be fast; our pace didn’t have to be regimented, but our training had to be consistent.
This is the same for our walk with the Lord. Consistency is half the battle. It is why Paul stresses self-discipline within the Christian life – because he knows it’s like a race, and only those who have consistently trained will obtain the prize. “Do you not know that in a race all the runners run, but only one receives the prize? So run that you may obtain it. Every athlete exercises self-control in all things. They do it to receive a perishable wreath, but we an imperishable. So I do not run aimlessly; I do not box as one beating the air. But I discipline my body and keep it under control, lest after preaching to others I myself should be disqualified.” (1 Cor. 9: 24-27)
Life Lesson #2: Small steps lead to big change.
When it comes to training for a race, whether it’s a challenging marathon, half marathon, 10K or 5K, every runner starts with just one mile. This is why there are hundreds of iPhone apps like Couch to 5K and Ease into 5K; because you have to start somewhere, one step at a time. And it’s these small steps taken consistently over the course of time that eventually lead to big change.
C.S. Lewis might have said it best in his book, Prince Caspian, “Isn’t it funny how day by day nothing changes, but when you look back, everything is different.” So often this is the way our Christian walk is. Our spiritual growth doesn’t have to be about the next big drama in our lives. It’s really amazing when it can be an ever-deepening, slowly-expanding love for our Savior. It’s not about running faster or harder than anyone else, or even coming in first place; it’s about endurance. In fact, Hebrews 12 mentions the word endurance three times when describing our faith and how it should grow. “Let us run with endurance the race that is set before us, looking to Jesus, the founder and perfecter of our faith, who for the joy that was set before him endured the cross, despising the shame, and is seated at the right hand of the throne of God” (Hebrews 12:1-2) We must endure consistently, because it’s the small steps that create the habits in our lives; and habits create lifestyles. It was Aristotle who said, “We are what we repeatedly do. Excellence then, is not an act, but a habit.” If we want to change the direction of our lives, we have but to establish different habits than the ones we currently have. One day at a time. When I started out running, I wasn’t thinking “I need to work myself up to six miles.” That would have been too daunting. I was thinking, “I need to run for 2 minutes without dying.” The same can be said for our Christian walk. If you are just trying to establish the habit of daily time in the Word, you can’t say “I want to spend 30-40 minutes every morning with the Lord.” Your small step could be, “I am going to spend 10 minutes every morning in the Word.” Then let it grow from there. But that small change will create a habit in your life that will lead to big change down the road.
Life Lesson #3: Slow and steady may not win the race, but it finishes it.
The first time I ran my first 6 mile run, my timing was horrible. It was a life-time away from my goal of how quickly I had wanted to run and I remember thinking, “Whoever said slow and steady won the race, never saw how very slow I could be.” So, I decided to make up my own rendition of that line. Mine says, “Slow and steady may not win the race, but it will finish it.” I knew I could not be a fast runner, not yet anyways. But I had seen enough change happen over the course of those several months that I knew I could finish the six miles, and finishing is what I would focus on.
Paul understood this principle well. In 2 Timothy 4, he said, “I have fought the good fight, I have finished the race, I have kept the faith. Now there is in store for me the crown of righteousness, which the Lord, the righteous Judge, will award to me on that day—and not only to me, but also to all who have longed for his appearing.” When it came to his life, Paul focused on the future reward, the finish line. We should do the same. Slow and steady, we can finish the race of life set before us.
Life Lesson #4: Sometimes there is pain in the pursuit.
Some people love running. They love getting out on the open road and just running, running, running. It refreshes them, energizes their day, and gives them a pep in their step. I…am not one of those people. I hate running. I do. I do it, but I hate it. I’m told that there’s this “runner’s high” we’re supposed to get mid-run where you just feel great, powerful, and strong. I am not convinced it exists. I have yet to experience any such high. Sure, there are moments around mile 2 and 4 where I think, “Ok, well, this isn’t going to actually kill me.” But high? Nope. Never. I do, however, experience soreness, fatigue, and the occasional knee-ache after a hard run. That is true. And there was about 2 weeks in my training where I had to stop for hip pain when I switched from running on the treadmill to running outdoors. But once I was given the okay, I started the regime up again. Why, some of you may ask? Why would I continue to run when it clearly was causing harm to my body? Because…sometimes there is pain in the pursuit.
This truth carries well into our Christian walk. There are times, in our desire to grow, when pain is incurred. Sometimes, this pain is because the Lord is chastening us. He is trying to rid us of our sinful habits, and conviction sets in causing pain. It’s never fun; conviction rarely is, but it’s always for our good; it’s always to change us into His Son’s character. Sometimes, this pain comes in the form of tragedy where a life lesson is attached. God wants to teach us something about Himself, and pain is His greatest teacher. And so, a tearing away occurs and we are wounded. But even in our pain, God has a purpose. “He heals the brokenhearted and binds up their wounds” (Psalms 147:3). So, when we are struggling through a painful place in our walk with the Lord, remember there is pain in the pursuit, and it is worth walking through because on the other side of that pain is great reward.
Life Lesson # 5: There will be times when you have to give yourself a little pep talk.
I half-wish I was being recorded during that first six mile jog I took months ago; I am sure I looked hilarious. Like I have said, my timing was horrible that day, but it didn’t start out that way. In fact, my first four miles were pretty good (for me). My fifth mile was about a minute slower and I could tell I was losing my steam…I underestimated how quickly. My sixth mile was pathetic, in fact, I must have looked ridiculous. It was an 18 minute mile!!! That’s like grandma-in-a-walker slow! And if you had been with me running, it would have been even more humbling for me. My knees were aching, my body sore; I just wanted to quit. During that last mile I actually said out loud, “Just keep going, Sarah. Just keep running. Don’t stop. You’re almost done. Just keep on.” It was my first pep talk I had ever given myself….and it worked!
In our Christian walk, aren’t there times when we just want to quit? We just want to throw in the towel and say, “No more! I can’t do this. It’s too hard. I keep failing.” We see where we are compared to where we want to be and the distance seems too daunting. These are the times when we have to give ourselves our little pep talks. We have to remind ourselves to just keep going. Keep doing what you know you need to do, even if you don’t feel like it. Persist in spending time with the Lord even if it’s hard to peel yourself out of bed in the morning. Keep being faithful in going to church even if you could really use that Sunday morning to get things done. Continue to give faithfully in your tithes even when it’s painful to watch your checking account dwindle. Keep on being faithful to the ministries that God has led you into even if you don’t feel like it’s making a difference. When your body is weak, and your heart is aching and you just want to quit, keep going. “And let us not grow weary of doing good, for in due season we will reap, if we do not give up.” (Galatians 6:9)
Life is not like a 100-meter dash. It’s a long race, a marathon. You don’t have to be the fastest, the strongest, the quickest out of the gate to finish well, to grow and have a successful Christian life. If you can be consistent in the small things, endure as you take one step at a time, and push through the occasional pain, you will find that it’s a race you can win, and enjoy the process as the Lord works out His Character in your life.
So, just keep running, sister. Just keep running toward Jesus.