When I saw this word for Friday I felt weary. Like I had been on a journey for so long and felt like giving up so often. Journey. It's the word of life. Really. It's what we are doing every day in and out as we spin daily around the sun, as all the seasons blur together, and we grow up and old.
I'd like to say the word journey makes me think of a caravan of backpackers participating in a monumental expedition. People breathing thin air and breaking the barriers of normal human limits scaling Mt. Everest or Kilimanjaro. Or Perhaps being like the young woman I met this summer who was eagerly awaiting her two week camping and rafting journey through the Grand Canyon by river.
But that's not what comes to mind.
When I think journey I think of running laps around a track.
It's kind of how I think of life. A track. We seem often times to be plodding around a track, running our laps daily, and it's not that exciting yet it is strenuous. Different weather conditions arise. Hurdles. Thirst. Sweat. Exhaustion. Lagging behind. Pushing on. Monotonous jogging going through motions. Feelings of joy and accomplishment too as milestones happen and laps flash by.
Maybe I think of life like a track because I used to spend much time there. I remember going to the neigbhorhood track with my sister and our foreign exchange student friend and doing sprints in the spring getting ready for track season. Running laps. One after the other. Not blazing down a new trail or covering scenic distance, just continuing the same course trying to lengthen strides and increase endurance.
I think of my first 800 race. Which was horrible.
I was never a great runner. I ran for a few reasons: friends, boys, to be in shape, and to prove to myself that I could. I never ran because I was naturally fast or a promising runner. Not in the least.
One balmy May Friday night the track team spilled out across different blankets eating trail mix downing gatorade and energy bars. Track meets have a family feel to them. Girls braiding each others hair. Boys laughing and pranking each other. Track meets stretch on for hours and every one mills around and cheers each other on after completing their races. Suspense laced anxiety mounts as the hours pass and you wait for your one or two events that are completed in a matter of seconds at most a few minutes.
That particular Friday night my coach came up to me and told me I would be running an 800. My stomach dropped. I had never trained for any such race. I only did sprints.
I agreed and pretended to be happy about it. Someone had dropped out of the race and gifted me with this place.
I will never forget that race. I can't remember most races or sporting events I competed in, but I remember that one because it was so awful. I kept up with the pack no problem the first lap. I remember thinking, "I can do this. It's not too bad." Despite feelings of desperation as I realized that I was running at a fast pace to just stay with the front pack for the first lap around the track. I never had ran anything past a 400. I continued to stay with the group but as we cleared 600 meters I choked. None of my training had prepared me for running a double distance and anyone I was ahead of pushed past me.
My face was already brightly flushed as it always does in any kind of physical activity, but my heart was burning with more embarrassment.
As I got to the seventy-five meter point every one was going to finish ahead of me. At least by fifty meters as far as I could tell. Suddenly I heard a man's voice call out, "Come on girl!" It was strong and I glanced and saw an elderly man standing beside the track cheering me home. He started clapping as hard as he could and I knew I had to finish it. If even just for this man. The race ended and the man was gone, but he did cheer me home just by his refusal to see me give up knowing I was dead last. And last by quite a lot.
I remember the sheepish way I looked at my coach and the sinking feeling I had in my heart that I was a complete failure. In every way. I guess except for one. I finished the race, last place embarrassed or not.
In our real life journeys we aren't racing against people. We think we are so many times, but we aren't. I don't think we finish dead last in our own journey. That's not the journey. It's about running our one life well. Finishing it despite how rough it was or how many times we stumbled. Getting back up with renewed resolved. To finish. And of course to help others running to win their victory home too.
A few thoughts about running our journeys...
1. Sometimes we are like that hyper active athlete that decides to compete in every possible event and over extends themselves and never really shines at anything. We check in to way to many races and never do our best. We are a part of too many things trying to be a superstar or claim perfection, make everyone happy or be someone else.
2. Other times we run our race, but it's so very hard. Perhaps we are running with so much baggage and hurt pressing us down into the very rubber track we are trying to fly across. All our strides seem hard and laborious. We aren't free to fly across the track easily. We are encumbered. Heavy on our feet. We all have those things that feel like extra weight weighing us down. We give up sometimes because of them.
3. Sometimes we decide to run someone else's race and we step out of our lane disqualifying ourselves from God's blessings and landing us back at square one and with a significant blow to our pride. Stay in your lane, run within your boundaries for your protection. No matter how hard your race seems.
4. Some times we fall nastily.
We trip and end up with our chins face down and our knees red and splayed open. People in the stands see us. They see us laid open and bare and we are humiliated to the core. We can't believe we have fallen in such an ugly fashion and can we even get up? Or will we just get up and walk off to the side. Silent, quiet and disengaged, forsaking our race forever? Deciding because we failed this one time our whole life equals failure. It's a tempting thought. Especially if other people decide with you it's true.
These verses came to my mind, "For a righteous man falls seven times and rises again. " (Proverbs 24:16).
If you fall you must get up.
Even if you are limping and seemingly marked now forever.
Even if it is in baby steps.
Even if your are bleeding and bruised.
Even if your are embarrassed and your face and heart are a deeply blazingly bright flush.
5. Do not be happy when enemies fall. The verses that follow the preceding verse in Proverbs tell us this. "Do not rejoice when your enemy falls. And do not let your heart be glad when he stumbles." (Proverbs 24:17). I've thought about that often. Our inward quiet joy at the stumble of someone who opposes us is really an invitation to our own` calamity.
6. Make sure to respond when someone decides to cheer you home. Be thankful for those unlikely people who have decided you are worth the cheering and aren't ready to see you finished and done.
7. Help cheer someone else through the end of a tough lap or season. No matter how far behind they are. Sometimes you're about the only person to bring someone home. Maybe you are the only person in the stands for them, hoping they'll make it. Begging them to get up and finish this one lap, this one life well.
8. Just think about one day, one step, one leg at time.
When life is hopeful and bright and going well and right we tend to think about our days like they lay out endlessly before us. However, when hardship, falls, heart ache, death, disease, dissatisfaction, or times of testing come we think of simply'one day at a time'. We can't manage the thoughts of getting through all of this race, all of this hard lap. We just have to focus on the day that is and run that little piece of our journey. It's the way to keep running in a hard time. It's also an invitation to practice James admonitions in James 4:13-15. We can get wrapped up in the making of our own plans, dreams, castles in the sky when times are good and golden. We can easily stand to lose it all. Sometimes that hard-I-can-only-do-one-day-at-a-time perspective of a hard season can hammer this reality deep into our person. It's all we know for those days.
It slows us down to hold Jesus' hand and let Him hold us close. We know we cannot do anything in these times save His power and presence alone.
Strangely enough it is the one step, stride at a time that propels us ultimately across the finish line or to self sabotage. When we give up and relinquish a day here and there that accumulates to a fall or a detour or a disqualification. All the days add up for good or bad.
9. Keep running. Even if you are short like me and have to overcome a small stride. Some people seem to have a long stride when it comes to life. Life seems to flow better. Whatever they do seems to yield a longer distance. Each step seems to take them farther. That's ok. Even if your stride seems to make you work double. Self comparison keeps you from running the way you should. Like me trying to keep up with those girls the first lap yet expending every ounce of energy I had and having nothing at the end.
10. One final thought. If you have fallen and broken your reputation remember this truth. That reputation is about the views other people have of you. Sometimes we can completely ruin that by our own choices. That fear alone will keep you sidelined or laying on a track down and out. Character isn't your reputation. Character can actually be worked in you through the loss of your reputation. A loss of reputation can reveal to you that your character needs work. But don't let that stop you. God can always transform and build your character no matter the views of others. We do really run our race ultimately just for Him and eventually life whittles down to a place where we come to know this. Where we are lagging behind everyone and God alone is standing there cheering us home not ashamed to stand beside us and claim us as His own.