Life is a marathon, not a sprint.
Although I am nowhere near ready to run another long-distance event right now, I have found myself reflecting frequently on my half-marathon last year. While I love the sense of accomplishment from training for and completing such a challenging event, I had no idea the impact it would have on my spiritual life.
As I was running last year, I remember feeling as if there were four distinct phases of the run. Phase 1 lasted for the first 2-3 miles. During this first phase, I found myself thinking about the daunting task of running 13.1 miles. I wondered what I had been thinking when I signed up for this ridiculous task, and I struggled to get into a groove.
During the second phase, I seemed to hit my stride and felt as if I could run forever. I enjoyed all of the sights. I was able to interact with the crowds gathered along the sides of the street, shouting words of encouragement. I marveled at how good it felt to be out there, running, without burden.
Around mile ten, I began to sense the stress that my body was under. And thus began phase 3. Every muscle in my body ached. I was tired. I was hungry. It was a struggle to keep going. But, as I looked at the mile markers, I knew that I had come so far! It would have been crazy to quit when I had made it this far! It was a matter of sheer grit and determination to keep pushing forward in spite of the pain. With every step, I kept thinking that the finish line had to be just around the corner.
Finally, I saw it! Blowing in the gentle breeze was a huge “Finish” banner, proclaiming that I had made it. There in the crowd I heard the shouts of my kids and my sister. With a final burst of energy—summoning every ounce of strength left in my body—I sprinted across the finish line and collected my medal. I had completed the race. I had fought the good fight.
I can’t even start to tell you how many times God has used that illustration—those stages of the race—to encourage me in this race called life. As I reflect over the last few years, I can clearly delineate the phases. The early days of adultery and divorce were daunting and hard. I struggled to get into a groove. Finally, in the summer of 2011, I sold everything “we” owned, moved, and started fresh with my kids. It was hard, but so cleansing and cathartic! I reached a place of peace, of trusting God to handle my future.
The next two years were relatively easy and enjoyable—and then I hit August of last year. I clearly remember calling out to God, begging to understand why things were getting so hard. God simply said, “You are in Phase 3.” On the one hand, I had an amazing sense of excitement that I was ten miles in—that the race was almost over. On the other hand, I knew that the hardest days were yet to come.
I am now well into phase 3. I want so badly to quit, to drop out of the race. The pain is unbelievable! I wake up each morning and drop to my knees in prayer, begging God to give me the strength and endurance to get through just one more day. I find myself collapsing in tears daily, curling into a fetal position. I am so over this race! And yet, I know that one day so very soon I will come around the corner to see the finish line.
Therefore we do not give up. Even though our outer person is being destroyed, our inner person is being renewed day by day. For our momentary light affliction is producing for us an absolutely incomparable eternal weight of glory. So we do not focus on what is seen, but on what is unseen. For what is seen is temporary, but what is unseen is eternal. 2 Corinthians 4:16-18
As I struggle through this phase of the race—as I wait for God to fulfill His promises to me—the days are hard. I often find myself collapsing in tears, struggling just to hold myself together at the most inopportune times.
There are days where I simply feel like quitting, giving up, dropping out of the race. I told a friend today that if I God had revealed the details of this race to me beforehand, I probably would have simply told Him, “Thanks, but no thanks. I’m not interested in running that race.”
The question becomes how do I endure the final mile of this race? How do I hang on to what seems an impossible dream? How do I push through the pain and allow God to continue doing an eternal work in my life?
I must start by focusing on the unseen, eternal purposes. Despite the pain and the fear and the exhaustion, there’s a sense of excitement for what God is doing. He has done so much work in me over the last few years! He has refined me by the fire of trials. He has purified my heart. He has created a compassion and empathy in me that I didn’t know before. Perhaps most importantly, I have come to know my Savior deeply and intimately, in ways I never could have imagined before. If He loves me enough to refine me by these fires, to build this type of enduring faith in me, He must have some pretty amazing plans for my future!
I know that God always has a purpose in the pain. I have offered myself to God as a living sacrifice, asking Him to mold me in whatever ways are necessary. I know this surrender is necessary if I want to eventually move out of phase 3, to find that finish line waiting for me just around the corner. Honestly, I asked for this race. I prayed that God would help my unbelief, that He would use me in ways that are above and beyond all I can ask or imagine. I chose to sign up for this race. Be careful what you pray!
I must focus on who God is. God is faithful. He is unchangeable. He is a Promise Keeper. He is unable to lie. He is the anchor for my soul, the foundation upon which my life is built. He has met my every need. He has walked faithfully beside me. He has guided me into healing and wholeness. He has proven Himself to me throughout my life.
As I look at scriptures to see who God is and I look at His track record in my life, I find that peace comes a little more quickly. I can read that Abraham believed God and it was credited to him as righteousness (Galatians 3:6). I see that Joseph clung to the dream planted in his heart as a young child even as he was sold into slavery in a foreign land. I see that David held onto the promise that he would one day be king, even as he ran for his life from King Saul. Every promise God made was eventually fulfilled. It wasn’t easy. It was a battle. It was a time of refining, testing, trials. But, in each situation, God used the difficulties to prepare for the fulfillment of the promise.
I don’t understand why I am facing the current trials—why it has to hurt so badly in these final days before I see the fulfillment of the promise. However, I know my God. He loves me. He wants only what is best for me. He wants me to trust Him completely. His ways are higher than my ways. He sees all, knows all. He is all powerful. He promises to take everything—even the bad things—and use them for good in my life.
Because that’s who God is, I can trust Him even when it doesn’t make sense.
Be still and know that I am God (Psalm 46:10). Over and over in the last few weeks, I’ve heard God calling out to me to be still and know that He is God. He has told me repeatedly that He will fight for me, and I only need to be still (Ex 14:14). My heart has been in turmoil as I try to understand why; God is calling me to simply be still, to trust Him, to let Him be God and do what only He can do.
As I take my eyes off the trials—off of the promise—and refocus on the Promise Maker, the Promise Keeper, my heart is stilled. His peace comes back to my heart and my life. I release my fear and trust my heart to the God who specializes in the impossible. I intentionally choose to stop asking God, and instead I choose to start thanking Him—praising Him for the victory He has promised even before I can see it in my humanity.
God is building my faith, and it is not a fun process. But, the author and perfecter of my faith knows what I need to mature me. He knows the circumstances that will bring Him the most glory. He knows what is best for me. I must simply trust Him.
Lord Jesus, I am worn out and weary from this race. I feel as if I can’t take another step. I know the finish line must be just around the corner. Still my heart as I focus on you, on the work you are doing in my life through this time. Help me to remember that you are the God who cannot lie, the One who always keeps His promises. Help me to remember the great cloud of witnesses who are standing along the course, cheering me on, those who have run this race before me and found you always faithful. Give me the strength and endurance to finish this race.