I’ve watched a lot of cross-country races in my day. All three of my kids participate in the sport, so I’ve become a big fan. One of my favorite races is the Steven Thompson Memorial Centipede. It’s unlike any other high school meet my kids’ teams attend because the athletes run as a single unit for the first two-thirds of the race. No joke: all seven members of the team hold a rope while they run.
For the final mile, they drop the rope and finish the race as individuals. But each athlete’s finishing time is driven, in large part, by the strength of their team whose collective pace positions them for the final mile. The fastest athletes finish slower than they do when they run alone and, often, the slower runners finish faster.
I love starting projects.
Cleaning closets. Organizing the garage. Planting bulbs in the yard for spring color. Sinking my teeth into a Lindt dark chocolate bar… the kind with a touch of sea salt. Finishing projects is a whole different story. Somewhere in the middle, I just give up steam. The “to donate” pile lingers in the corner of the closet for weeks. The garage has a strange collection of tools that never really find their home on the peg board. And I still have boxes of unplanted bulbs. (I’ve got no problem finishing the chocolate bar, however.)
She had one goal.
After the first meet of the season, my daughter had just one goal: to run the 1600M in less than six minutes. Despite her diligent efforts in practice and pushing herself at meets, the closest she got was 6:00.34. Those fractions of a second (!) were frustrating to her but the time still qualified for the middle school district meet.
The runners lined up for the race, tense and leaning in. I knew the girls on either side of my gal were also the top competitors from their respective schools. Gunsmoke signaled the last race of the season was underway. As the pack thinned and the girls found their own rhythms, I watched my daughter settle into her stride, praying silently that she’d reach her goal in the coming minutes.
As Christians who live in light of our Messiah’s resurrection, I think we often gloss over all that the Lord endured in the days between Palm Sunday and Easter. While Jesus’ redeeming sacrifice on the cross is difficult to meditate on, such awareness is necessary in order to appreciate the incomparable cost. I encourage you to join me in taking a cue from the Jewish Passover celebration as a way to do just that — see what I mean by reading last year’s Maundy Thursday post here: The Cup of Deliverance.
For the joy set before him [Jesus] endured the cross, scorning its shame, and sat down at the right hand of the throne of God.
— Hebrews 12:2b NIV
She’s a feisty ball of zeal perched on top of two spindly legs.
And it’s her first year of running for a school cross-country team. My little sixth grader was so eager to join her older sister in this sport this year. Together they’ve gone to practice for a couple of weeks, but for the most part have gone their separate ways upon arrival to run with their friends.
I arrived early to collect them the other day and got to watch the final activity assigned by the coaches: a tempo run for just under a mile. In the distance, I spotted my little gal’s hot pink shorts, streaking around the course in third position. For more than half a mile, she held her own with the front-runners.
For more than six years, on and off, I’ve been battling an injury to my left foot. As someone who classifies herself as a runner, this has been a major disruption to my singular choice of physical activity. I have pursued multiple interventions: rest (temporary and prolonged), chiropractic, oral and injected anti-inflammatories, boot immobilization, taping, and physical therapy. While each mitigated the effects, none corrected the problem completely.
That’s because I continue to cause the problem with my biomechanics. My stride is shorter on my right foot than on my left so, over many miles, I spend a disproportionate amount of time on the left, resulting in stress that mimics a fracture. The only long-term solution is to retrain my gait. As a human born with Adam’s sin, my relationship with God is dysfunctional apart from the sacrifice of Christ. After trusting in Him for my salvation, His Spirit begins the work of sanctification in my life: reshaping my spiritual gait. The lessons I’ve learned from running while retraining my gait had striking similarities to the process of spiritual formation.
I have had multiple running comrades over the years. Some of them have near-flawless form and rarely suffer injuries. Their good form didn’t rub off on me; I had to do the work. My fellow sojourners play a role in my salvation by sharing the truth of the gospel and inspiring me to mature in my faith. But I am not saved by their words or proximity to them: I must square my accounts with God myself through Christ.
My right adductor is weak, allowing my right foot to turn out. As a result my stride is shortened, which in turn has permitted my hamstring to tighten up. My efforts to keep my feet parallel are fatiguing my puny little adductor and causing intense stretching in my hamstring. Bringing my life into conformity with Christ stretches and reshapes my mind and heart. I surrender habits, thought patterns, language and maybe even suffer the loss of some friendships when I pursue God with all I am.
I have to focus my mental energy on every step I take. When my mind wanders, my wayward right foot goes with it. I must continuously and deliberately place my plantar with every turnover. My natural gait is defective and detrimental to my health. Similarly, my sinful nature is corrupt and costs me my life in eternity apart from Christ. Though I can do nothing to earn the gift He gave, I can strive to live a redeemed life that gives Him the glory. It will require effort and a continual submission to His will and the instruction His Word offers.
It’s about progress, not perfection:
My gait will never be perfect. I am fearfully and wonderfully made (Psalm 139:14), but my body suffers under the curse of a fallen world. Every degree of improvement I make to my stride will garner me more steps that aren’t as prone to injury. Though I will never attain perfection this side of heaven, I know that with every step I move closer to Christ, He is honored and more visible in me.
It requires perseverance, but is profitable:
It will take a long time to have the new gait feel natural instead of alien. My body was designed with the capacity for running, but my form must be true to the design to avoid injury. I must be dedicated in my effort: giving up would only end in further injury, robbing myself of something I was meant to enjoy. If I persevere, the result will be less pain in my foot. Likewise, I can continue to live according to my flesh and never look any different than one who doesn’t know Jesus. But He meant for me to know and experience the abundant life of a believer abiding in Him transformed by the renewing of my mind (Romans 12). What greater gain could there be?
Therefore, since we are surrounded by such a great cloud of witnesses, let us throw off everything that hinders and the sin that so easily entangles. And let us run with perseverance the race marked out for us, 2 fixing our eyes on Jesus, the pioneer and perfecter of faith. For the joy set before him he endured the cross, scorning its shame, and sat down at the right hand of the throne of God. 3 Consider him who endured such opposition from sinners, so that you will not grow weary and lose heart.
— Hebrews 12:1-3
Let’s run! I’ll see you out there…
Thanks to Beholding Glory for hosting the link up!