Warm-up complete. Race number pinned on. Earbuds in. “Running Playlist” cued up. Walk to starting line. Wait anxiously. Try to breathe.
Ready. Set. GO!
There was excitement in the air as Saturday’s Crush Childhood Cancer 2016 5K kicked off. Not only does this amazing annual event raise money, awareness, and support for families of children diagnosed with cancer, it also brings our community together for some healthy competition.*
After running cross country and track in high school, I took a nice long break, but then pulled my sneakers out of the closet to train for the 2013 Crush Childhood Cancer race. It was actually Tim’s idea and he agreed to go slow and stay with me because I wasn’t even sure I was going to make it to the end!
The exhilaration and adrenaline rush of crossing the finish line that day, though, renewed my passion for running and reignited my competitive spirit (especially since Tim beat me at the last step!). I began running on a more regular basis and even joined a running class at the YMCA with a simple goal in mind – improve my time at Crush next year. Okay, and beat my husband.
Both of which I did. In 2014, I beat my time by four minutes and my husband by seven!
By the time the 2015 race came around, I had two years of consistent running and distance training under my belt. Since beating Tim was a given, my only goal that year was to improve my time.
Which I did. And I just happened to pass our pastor, Roman, on the way to the finish line as well (setting a whole new standard and goal for 2016!). All my hard work had definitely paid off.
There’s great value in physical training, especially when you have a specific goal in mind. As you move your body in certain ways, it gets accustomed to moving in those ways. As you put your muscles to use, they become stronger. As you exercise, your cardiovascular system increases in efficiency. As you fight through the discomfort of getting those lazy bones moving, your mental ability to persevere through pain increases.
When race day comes, as you stand on that line about to start, the truth is that the end result that day has very little to do with how hard you’re willing to work in that moment – and much more to do with how hard you’ve been working over the past few weeks, months, and even years. Effort becomes secondary to instinct when your muscles, systems, and mind have been accustomed to and prepared for the activity they are about to launch into.
In 1 Timothy 4:7-8, Paul encourages Timothy (and us) to “train yourself to be godly. For physical training is of some value, but godliness has value for all things”. Though our salvation is not something we can earn or be “trained” into (all we can do is receive it), growing to be more “godly”, or more “like God” in our character absolutely requires effort on our part. Even if it’s a small effort – consistently reading and studying about the nature of God while actively taking steps to live like Jesus over many weeks, months, and years will yield incredibly valuable results.
Especially on race day.
Life is hard – struggles are real, circumstances are less than ideal, and trials love to rear their ugly heads. Even when we think things are going fairly well, most of us know that just means something else is waiting around the next corner. Every single one of us has had, or is going to have, a ‘race’ present itself in our lives over the next few weeks, months, or years.
In these ‘races’, our character is put on display – because the results on race day prove the training. It’s in those moments where you hear the bad news, where you realize your greatest fears have come true, or where you think things can’t get any worse (and then they do) that you’re standing at the starting line, just trying to breathe. You want to just stand still or somehow go back in time, but you realize you can’t – you must move forward. And as you take those first few steps, you realize that effort will become secondary to instinct.
When I first began disciplining myself to get up early and spend time reading God’s Word daily, I had no idea what the payoff would be on race day. I knew I was growing – my muscles were being strengthened and my systems were being accustomed to seeking and seeing God in everything. But I didn’t know that when the hard times hit – when the gun went off and I started taking those first few steps – that seeking and seeing God would come so naturally.
If you don’t go to our church, you’re probably wondering if I accomplished my goal this year. Unfortunately, I didn’t. I came in nine seconds slower than last year’s race – and nine seconds behind my competition (although it was neck and neck the whole time!).
Could I have stepped on the gas, picked up the pace, and taken Roman at the end? Maybe. But it’s more likely that I can directly attribute the loss to the number of times I drove by him as he was running – and I had decided to skip that day (or that week – or month) because it was too cold. Or I was too busy. Or too tired. Or I was on my way to Dunkin’ Donuts 😉
A few weeks ago I heard the testimony of Katherine Wolf, who at the age of 26 suffered a massive stroke. She survived, but has had to relearn how to walk and talk and still lives with many of the effects of the stroke. In sharing her story, Katherine said that she often gets asked if this trial is what has made her faith so strong – to which she replies, “No! My faith was strong before this trial!”**
The thing about these ‘races’ is that you have no idea when they’re coming. It’s not like you can say, “Oh look, I have some marriage struggles headed my way this fall” or “That diagnosis is coming next year, so I better get ready!” We don’t sign up for these things and then have months to prepare – our only choice is to be constantly preparing.
I’ve got 360-something days to train for Crush 2017, but my next ‘race’ may be coming tomorrow. So, even though I’m tired and my to-do list is out of control, I’m going to get my muscles moving today with some time in God’s Word. This training might feel unnecessary and inconvenient, but I know the results will prove the effort totally worth it.
**Katherine Wolf, IF Gathering 2016
To find out more about Katherine’s story, visit http://www.hopeheals.com/our-story/