By Anne O’Donnell
There is an obvious difference between sprint running and long distance running. What happens when we are asked to sprint run while on a long-distance run? How do we pace ourselves while straining to cross so many finish lines?
Every spring, all the students in the upper elementary grades were timed for running the fifty-yard dash in the school parking lot. The asphalt paving offered better traction to our shoes than the slippery tiled floor inside the gym, and our physical Education teacher demanded we all participate whether we cared about running or not.
My heart went out to one classmate named Sandy. I worried she would either walk to the finish line and hope it counted as running, or stumble and fall from the uneven surface of the pavement. She was the Barbie doll of the class; perfectly manicured nails and coiffed long blond hair, starched button down yellow shirt, patent-leather Mary Janes, and ironed gym shorts. I wanted to turn my head away when she was called up to the starting line.
My other classmates were used to the exhausting regimens of gym class, and embraced this one last exercise of the year as a final display of our raw talent, or lack of it.
Though it was blistering hot the day the challenge was scheduled, we were all hyped up to see who would hold the winning time.
I had a strong feeling I would outrun many of the eighth grade boys, only because when we played running games at recess, they could never tag me, the little sixth grade girl, because I ran so fast. I found great delight in this feat, as it was one of two accomplishments I could attach to my name. The other trophy I awarded myself came from being the only girl on the softball team who could hit a home run.
My turn came to step up to the white chalk starting line. More anxious to show off my capabilities than feel intimidated by the older boys staring in suspense, I burst forward at the sound of the starting signal with such speed, breaking the record of any classman who had run the same distance. I heard some clapping going on around me, but what stood out more in my memory is the look of the boys standing with their feet apart and arms folded across their chest, as if to communicate, the competition isn’t over yet.
I can still feel the exhilaration of the moment, taking in the thrill of feeling I could do something above average and enjoying a little glory for it. My life at home felt shallow and unfulfilling, so this feat amongst my peers was monumental in my mind and took my self-confidence up a couple notches.
I continued my dedication to running into my high school years, and dared myself to enter a local Olympics for junior athletes. I did not win any medals or trophies, but the experience played a role in my spiritual development many years later when I became a Christian and learned about a different kind of running.
As a growing Christian, eager to absorb every Bible teaching I could get my hands on, I learned specific verses that correlated to endurance, perseverance, goals, determination, inner satisfaction, and victory. I read with fascination what it meant to follow the commands of Jesus, which involved all of these commitments, and felt hopeful, that given a little time, I would live a pleasing life that exposed the sincerity in my heart to live right.
Then the battles came; relationship battles, health scares, family splits, personality conflicts, broken friendships, spiritual growing pains, personal defeats, and much more. My only recourse for navigating my way through these difficult circumstances was to look up to those who were more experienced in the faith than myself.
I learned, with open arms, to embrace struggles as though they were God’s greatest gifts of opportunity. Yes, trials of many kinds will draw a person out of themselves, and into the realm where God stretches us and conforms us. We all know this is true, just look at all the Bible characters who had little to no credentials before being hand-picked by God himself to carry out a divine assignment.
God in his rich mercy, desires to conform us to his son Jesus, and it is in surrender that we stand a chance of attaining his purposes for our lives. Unlike my fifty-yard dash in grade school, stepping up to multiple starting lines in life requires more than hoping we will outrun our peers, but rather understanding this truth:
Let us not become weary in doing good, for at the proper time we will reap a harvest if we do not give up. Galatians 6:9
My brothers and sisters in Christ, congratulations for running the race set out before you. Let’s run arm and arm toward the finish line together, cheering one another on in love and good deeds. Let us magnify the Lord together, and give shouts of praise for all he has done for us. Amen!