The analogy of running to living as a Christian is one you are bound to be familiar with if you’ve spent any time reading your Bible or attending church. Paul often talks of “running the race” to “achieve the prize” for which God has called us. As I begin training for this marathon (it’s somewhat disheartening to think that I’m still in the beginning stages after two months and dozens of miles, but that’s the reality), I have been reflecting on how it has related to my experiential life training as a Christian. I’m sure I’ll have better insights after (hopefully) completing the marathon, but these are my initial ponderings.
First, I entitled these posts “Running Like Crazy [People]” because I always thought marathon runners were crazy, and now I know that’s true. If you had told me a year ago that I would wake up at 5am on my day off to run ten miles I probably would have had you committed you to a psych ward either to treat your addiction to cocaine or start you on anti-psychotics for your schizophrenia. But alas, it is I who ended up being crazy, and though I knew it would be painful, I took the challenge anyway.
Similarly, we are told in the Bible that life as a Christian is not easy. The majority of our role-models were beheaded or crucified at worst, and publicly ridiculed at best. The Christian life is not an easy one and though we’re shielded from it in the states, many of our brothers and sisters are still dying for their faith.
Death is not the only difficulty, however. Many will say that if you are a Christian you have a peace that surpasses understanding, and if you know Jesus you should feel only joy. I am a Christian, I have experienced a peace that surpasses all understanding, and I have known joy. But not every day. Jesus says that in this world we will have trouble. And I do. Sometimes I get overwhelmed by the fact that there is so much hurt and suffering in the world. Sometimes I am overwhelmed by the hurt and suffering I see in close family and friends. Sometimes I am overwhelmed by the hurt and suffering in my own life.
In my marathon training I have days when everything is right- the weather’s great, my legs are rested, and I’m adequately hydrated. But I always know that there will be another day where it’s too hot, my legs feel like they’re filled with lead, I have to pee after only two miles, and I feel completely unmotivated.
In my faith there are days when I’m filled with the word, strong in my faith, persistent in prayer, and confident of my identity in Christ. But I always know that there will be more hard times again. I will fall away, or I will sin, or God will be silent for a time, and just as those 6 mile runs can feel like an eternity if I’m not adequately rested or hydrated or the weather’s just crappy, these dry times in my relationship with God can feel like they might never end.
In my faith journey I am tempted to look at others and think “if only I could be like them, I wouldn’t struggle.” Everyone else is perfect and I am so messed up. But that’s not true. As I have trained with my sister, Kati, I’ve learned that even as a seasoned runner who seems perfect, she still struggles. I assumed every day and every run was a piece of cake for her, but she has said to me, “you know, these runs are hard for me too. I’ve done it before, but that doesn’t mean it’s not painful.” How nice it would be if people in the church shared their struggles so openly!
Can you imagine? Rather than platitudes like “I sin like everyone else, and need God’s grace…” if people were saying “I struggle specifically with honesty (or lust, or getting drunk), and though I’ve been a Christian for a long time, this is still a very real struggle for me.”
This is huge to me, because one of my biggest frustrations is the more I grow in my faith, the more I realize I have so far to go. Just as I continue training for this marathon knowing that each week I will have to increase my mileage, and it will only get harder, I know that if I grow like I should be in my faith every day will get harder- not easier. Christ has called us to lives of suffering and hard work and knowing Christ doesn’t make it all a cake walk.
As God grows my heart, I feel more pain. As God grows my understanding, I am challenged to show more grace. As God grows my self-understanding, I am forced to take off my masks. As God grows my courage I am challenged to tear down my walls.
But this is the nature of a race- that you keep going until you reach the end.
So I keep running.