I made a decision this morning. Before I changed my mind, came up with excuses, or weighed options of alternative choices, I layered up. I put on a layer of pants over some tights, a t-shirt, long-sleeve shirt, jacket, warm socks, hat, gloves, laced up shoes and headed out, pressing play on my IPOD to listen to an hour-long podcast. Yes, I decided to go for a run.
Now, I’m guessing that you might fall into the group that would associate the title of this post with said running activity – you think running, you associate pain. I would have to agree with you. After a little over 2 1/2 years of this adventure with the Lord, I agree that most runs do, at some point, bring about pain. I got to thinking about this while dodging icy patches today, and a memory of my first marathon training runs came to mind.
This particular run took place on a day in July, and I remember the weather to be extremely humid and hazy on this morning. One of the reasons I remember this run is because it sticks out in my mind as the day I most wanted to quit. I vividly remember tuning into my body and it was as if it could just about whisper in exhaustion, “Stop…PLEASE…stop!” With every lift of my leg, one after the other, it seemed as though every muscles was screaming, so loudly in fact, I could NOT distract my thoughts with anything else. It was as if my body never experienced a run a day in it’s life before. Only by some complete miracle, by loudly crying out for help, did my mind calm down and convince by body that it would not die, but in fact, grow stronger from the experience.
“Now may the Lord’s strength be displayed, just as you have declared:
I specifically remember running down the Hilliard trail, almost reaching the half-way point where I planned on turning around for the run back home, when an image came across my mind as clear as if it was truly in front of me. I “saw” a finish line, and just beyond that finish line, I saw the faces of those precious friends that have been my prayers partners alongside me in this journey. I “saw” them, though it was like watching a silent movie in slow-motion. Some were cupping thir hands near their mouth as though they were screaming, some were bent forward and waving their hands to draw me nearer, some were jumping up and down, lifting their arms, while others just stood with a large smile on their faces. As I grew closer and closer, straining towards them, I managed to cross the “line” and immediately the picture changed. As I strained forward, leaning into what I thought would be the embrace of my friends, I instead, fell into the arms of my Jesus.
It was an amazing picture. At that moment, I had a thought. A thought that I knew came from the one who just gave me this vision. This was a picture of a race, yes, but it was not the race I was currently training for, not the finish line I had envisioned each run prior. This marathon of life, the one in which I train everyday, the race that will be complete, not just in a little over 4 hours, but instead, on the day I will see my Jesus face to face.
1 Corinthians 9:24
Do you not know that in a race all the runners run, but only one gets the prize? Run in such a way as to get the prize.
2 Timothy 4:7
7I have fought the good fight, I have finished the race, I have kept the faith.
I can tell you that at that moment of the vision, I was running, but my feet were not touching the ground. I was overcome with emotion, thankful for experiencing pain that day. In fact, I’d love to tell you that I experienced this “floating” for the second half of my run, but I didn’t. Soon after, the pain returned. Just as in life, our times of conflict, our circumstances, our struggles don’t necessarily change, but our perspective, our hearts, can. We are such limited creatures, with a one-way, mostly selfish perspective. When we can start to ask for His eyes, and “see” things through His lens, we not only gain wisdom and knowledge beyond ourselves, but we receive his love, joy, peace, and hope that can be found no where else.
And we know that in all things God works for the good of those who love him, who have been called according to his purpose.
Pain. I’ve come to learn that pain has different purposes. One purpose of pain has been crafted by our creator as a type of warning system, an indicator that something is injured, damaged, not functioning properly. It allows us to investigate the source of this pain to stop continued damage and further serious repercussions. Another type of pain experienced can be caused by….adjustment, fatigue. Perhaps a muscle or another part of our anatomy has not been used in awhile, perhaps it has lay dormant, and for whatever reason, it is being called upon once again to function. It may not like it, it may “groan” at you, it may “bite” you, it may even pull and strain. Our natural inclination – mayday, mayday, eject, eject, avoid, avoid…stop.
In my experience, athletics has helped me to recognize the difference between the two. While it’s important to be aware and to watch for those indicators of damage, most of the pain that I’ve experienced – exercise induced – has been used in building me up. I’ve gained physical strength and endurance, but more importantly, I had an opportunity to gain mental strength and endurance that only comes from being pushed beyond what you previously thought you were capable of. Yet beyond the world of exercise, this takes on many meanings. How many of us have exercised our “memory” muscles? Or do we all fall prey to “I just can’t memorize scripture.” How many of us simply avoid a decision or a circumstance because that’s just not something we could ever do? In the meantime, what has God offered that we’re missing out on?
3Not only so, but we[a] also rejoice in our sufferings, because we know that suffering produces perseverance; 4perseverance, character; and character, hope.
Lord, in the strain of life, may our hearts cry out to you, may we be reminded to ask for you sight, and may we walk in the peace that passes all understanding. Thank you that we can even walk lighter from the burdens that you graciously ask for us to give over to you. Jesus, I thank you for answering my prayers. I thank you for speaking so personally to me. I long to shine my light for you. Thank you for the encouragement to persist in my pursuit of you. I love you.