This is the third (and final) of a series of posts here at My Pleasant Places (be sure to read Part 1 and Part 2 first). It is about a significant discovery I made a couple of years ago that has truly made my life more pleasant and meaningful. The subject is about more than meets the eye, thus the necessity for the series rather than a single post. I would like to read your comments after you have read this finale. Have you had a similar experience?
Something very special happened to me while working towards running a full mile. To the best of my memory, I had never run a mile in my life. I had walked lots of miles. In fact, I have been a ‘fitness walker’ most of my adult life. But run? Never!
I continued with the same simple strategy that had helped me get that half-mile under my belt (see previous two posts for details); I added 10-15 feet a week (aka two sidewalk sections) to my previous week’s distance. Whenever I felt a surge of energy, I might add a little extra to my run. But whenever that happened, I would not allow myself to go backwards; I could not regress back to a previous marker. That distance became my new baseline. Though I wasn’t conscious of it at the time, I later realized that this standard to not go backwards coincides perfectly with a Biblical principle: “Press towards what is ahead…live up to what we have already attained.”
And speaking of Biblical principles, let me digress momentarily from my running story to build a platform for the really good stuff that will follow. I’m convinced that the Apostle Paul, writer of over half the New Testament, must have been some kind of athlete—or at least a fan!—because so many of his analogies make reference to sports. For instance, he writes here about discipline and training hard:
“Don’t you realize that everyone who runs in a race runs to win, but only one runner gets the prize? Run like them; run to win! All good athletes go into strict training; they are disciplined. They train hard to win a prize that will fade away, but we do it for an eternal prize. So I run—but not without a clear goal ahead of me. I run with purpose in every step. I’m running hard for the finish line. I’m giving it everything I’ve got. I box—but not as if I were just shadow boxing. Rather, I toughen my body with punches and make it my slave… I discipline my body like an athlete, training it to do what it should. I’m staying alert and in top condition so that I will not be disqualified for the prize, after telling everyone else all about it and then missing out myself. *
Here he talks about focus and keeping our eyes on the goal, not looking back:
It’s not that I’ve already reached the goal or have already completed the course. But I run to win that which Jesus Christ has already won for me. I can’t consider myself a winner yet. This is what I do: I don’t look back, I lengthen my stride, and I run straight toward the goal to win the prize that God’s heavenly call offers in Christ Jesus. I press on to reach the end of the race. I’m off and running, and I’m not turning back. *
And here he compares life to a race with a strong emphasis on not quitting when the going gets tough: *
Therefore, since we are surrounded by such a huge crowd of witnesses to the life of faith [remember these “witnesses”; I’m going to refer to them in a moment], let us strip off every weight that slows us down, especially the sin that so easily trips us up. And let us run with endurance the race God has set before us. We must run the race that lies ahead of us and never give up. We must focus on Jesus, the source and goal of our faith [i.e., the starting point and the finish line]. Think of all the hostility he endured from sinful people; then you won’t become weary and give up. He saw the joy ahead of him, so he endured… Because he never lost sight of where he was headed—that exhilarating finish in and with God—he could put up with anything along the way: cross, shame, whatever. And now he’s there, in the place of honor, right alongside God.
Now, having laid that foundation, let me get back to my running story. I was “losing steam” one day and thinking I might have to stop short of my daily goal. I had made so much progress to date, and I had never once stopped short; I didn’t want to begin now. But my body was angry and screaming for some relief. 🙂
It was in this context—considering stopping short—that I had an epiphany, of sorts. Let me remind you how lightning-fast a “train of thought” can be. You can have an entire day’s-worth of memories and emotions all compacted into a few seconds. That’s how my epiphany occurred, so track with me, as I lead you through my train of thought, and ultimately to the epiphany.
As my body was trying to reclaim its “rightful place as boss,” I began to recall in quick succession the scriptures mentioned above. I thought of Paul toughening his body and making it his slave and training it to do what it should so he wouldn’t be disqualified for the prize…
…That led me to think about people that I knew that had quit the honorable race and had chosen to take the easy, meaningless way, instead…
…Which lead me to remember the wounded lives left in the wake of their selfish choices…
…Which motivated me to resolve afresh to press on—even when difficult—so that I wouldn’t be guilty of damaging the lives of others OR of aborting my own destiny…
…Which made me think of the “great crowd of witnesses” that were literally (though invisible to my physical eyes) cheering me on to finish my personal life course…
As these thoughts flooded my mind in milliseconds with clarity, order, one principle on top of the other, I clearly saw life as a race, not one where I was competing with others, but one in which I was required to finish. I was making a connection between my physical running (and the strong temptation to stop short) and the REAL race—the race of life, the personal course marked out for me. I reaffirmed in my heart that I did not want to stop short of the goal, that I wanted to FINISH STRONG. At that moment, moved by the deep resolve I felt inside, I made a verbal—albeit breathless!—declaration: “I’ll finish for you crowd of witnesses!”
I kept running and in a few more steps, I said, “I’ll finish for you, Kids (speaking of my four children and two step-sons); I’ll leave you a legacy.” I kept pushing, thinking about the declarations that I was making, and then I added, “I’ll finish for you Grands (grandchildren), I’ll leave you footprints to follow.” At each turn or at certain “markers” along my track, I made a declaration for someone I cared about—and I reached my goal for that day. But more importantly than the physical finish was something that happened in my heart.
That “something” was the deep connection I made between my physical running and my spiritual race and the great necessity to finish (as opposed to quitting, giving up, or fizzling out). I felt as if I were leading the way (simply by reason of my position of leadership and my age) for a bunch of others (my children, grandchildren, the women in my church, etc.) and that it was imperative that I finish for them so that they, in turn, could finish their race. This connection was a momentous occasion for me.
I began routinely making declarations a part of my running. After a short while, I quit saying, “I’ll finish for you, Kids, Grandkids, etc.” and I started calling each individual by name. “I’ll finish for you, Jeff…” “I’ll finish for you, Randy…” “I’ll finish for you, Chloe…” And beyond family, “I’ll finish for you, Rachel…” “I’ll finish for you, Sierra…” “I’ll finish for you, Jessica…” Again, oh so powerful! This simple practice embedded these people into my heart and reinforced within me how important it was for me to “finish well;” others were following.
From there, I began to “invite” like the Apostle Paul did, “Follow me as I follow Christ.” By saying this, I was acknowledging my responsibility to be a leader. I knew that to be able to say this, I had to lead carefully. After all, I didn’t want these beloved ones to follow me into harm’s way! Making this statement was my unique way of accepting that responsibility (before God). It was also another way of committing to finish well and to finish strong. The physical activity of running somehow empowered me to build up my spiritual muscles, as well, and to begin to take my designated place in the Race of Life with confidence. Isn’t it amazing how God speaks to us in such creative ways?
So for me, running is both physical and spiritual. I do it for myself, and I do it and for those I love. It’s a time to run off steam and a time to call out to God. I run to create energy and to release stress, and I run to continually remind myself that I am in a real Race that demands that I press on, not looking back, enduring “hardship” until I cross the ultimate Finish Line. What a powerful combination of benefits!
And in case you’re wondering, I finished that mile I was working on—and more. But I’ll write about that another time. For now, let me conclude by referring to the title of this series. When I say “Running for My Life,” I really mean it. I run because it adds so much vitality to my life! And even if I didn’t have legs, I would still “run to win” the Real Race.
*1 Cor 9:24-27, Phil 3:12-14, Heb 12:1-3; I paraphrased these scriptures by compiling from three different translations: GWT, NLT, and The Message.