My husband, Eric, runs ultra trail marathons. For those who aren’t part of the running world, a marathon is 26.2 miles, so “ultra marathon” is a term for any race that’s even longer, and the “trail” part means that he’s running on what others would consider a hiking trail, usually involving elevation gains. Often when I tell people this they ask me why he does it, and that’s a hard question to answer, even though I think I do understand his reasons. It’s about pushing.
I definitely don’t run ultra marathons, but pushing is something that Eric and I have in common. I’m not only talking about physical strength and endurance; I’m talking about a constant drive to get more from life and more from ourselves. For some people pushing looks like keeping up with the Joneses — get a good job, make more money, buy the big house and the nice car. Eric and I were on that track for a while, but we found that it quickly came back to bite us. Now we’re more focused on achievements. We want to reach more personal goals, do more things, grow more spiritually, do more to serve others, maybe make a name for ourselves. Harder, better, faster, stronger. Eric made a career change several years ago and is currently finishing a masters degree. I got my masters as well, and now I’m focused on fulfilling my lengthy bucket list.
Our sermon this morning centered around Hebrews 12:1-2:
In years past when I’d go along to watch Eric’s road races there were usually at least a couple of runners with a portion of this verse printed on their shirts, and it’s certainly encouraging, as if the writer of Hebrews was giving believers a pep talk. But what about “the race that lies before us?” Does this mean that, as Christians, we all run the same race, regardless of our individual differences? Or has God ordained that each of us run on our very own trail, achieving only what He has destined us to achieve?
What if I get to the finish line only to realize I ran the wrong race?
I’m not going to claim to know the answer to any of that because I don’t. I’m just another runner like the rest. The truth is that when I run a race I’m just following the person in front of me. All those goals on my bucket list are just things I want to do someday. I’d like to think that I want to do them because God has called me to, but I don’t know that for sure.
During one long trail race Eric found himself facing a dark overnight run with trail markers that weren’t easy to find. The only way he could stay on course was to search for and follow a series of small orange flags, set roughly a quarter mile apart, and barely visible on a high dark mountain. But I don’t think God calls me into a lifelong game of hide and seek where I must constantly wonder whether what I’m working on is really a part of His will for me or not. I worry about that a lot, but I also know that God has given us the Way (John 14:6), so maybe this is a worry I need to loosen my grip on.
What God does say in Hebrews 12 is that I really just need to do what I do during a race –follow the Guy in front of me. “Let us run with endurance the race that lies before us, keeping our eyes on Jesus…”
Jesus, being full man and fully God, guides us on our own course, because He has run it before and He knows the way. I’m not called to die on a cross (I hope), but I’m called to pick up my cross and follow Him (Luke 9:23), being willing to carry it for the joy that lies before me.
So perhaps whether I run 100 miles or 2, whether I write books or grocery lists, whether I tend a mission field in a foreign country or just the one inside my home, I just have to keep following the Guy in front of me. Maybe God cares less about what goals I achieve because what’s important is whose name I achieve them in.