When the Race is a Relay

I love to run, often using it as a time of prayer and contemplation. (Admittedly, such prayers are sometimes something along the lines of, “Please help me catch my breath…”)

Running, often used as an analogy for the Christian life, has taught me many lessons. Aside from the physical and mental benefits, much of my own spiritual growth has been accomplished through running. I know from experience what it means to “run with endurance” and to “press on toward the prize.” I wish I knew all the time what it is to “run and not grow weary,” but I recognize that I am increasing in such strength by the power of the One who gives breath and movement. Sometimes, though, I find that I learn more from bad runs than good runs; in these, I recall my own limitations and, in my weakness, am reminded of the One who makes me strong.

Yesterday was such a run.

My dear running partner and I haven’t run together in a while due to scheduling and our own love for the quiet of solo runs. Yesterday, though, we went together and felt excellent until about the eighth or ninth mile. At this point, we were five miles from our cars and had no choice but to carry on. He still felt terrific, but I was fading fast. I hadn’t prepared for such a long run and it showed.

I told him to go on ahead and I’d catch up eventually, but he refused. And although I felt grouchy, sunburnt, and mildly embarrassed, I also felt extremely loved. Tempering his own strength to match my weakening pace, he made sure we kept moving forward.

As we reached the thirteenth mile, I remembered (though I was far too out-of-breath to say so) that this is exactly why the Christian life is not one of autonomy. If we are to run well for Christ and Kingdom, we have to lean into each others’ strengths when we are weak and attend to others’ weaknesses when we are strong. While Paul in Hebrews is primarily referring to the heroes of the faith when he writes of “so great a cloud of witnesses,” I am inclined to think that we, too, are part of this throng—or, at least, we should aspire to be. We, too, are to urge each other onward when the race is brutal, not just from the sidelines but from beside each other, pacing as partners in this glorious and painful relay.

All that to say, I am thankful I was not alone on the trail yesterday, just as I am even more thankful that I am not alone in the race toward our beautiful, promised prize in Christ.

Reader, lean into the strengths of others and, more so, the strength of the One who has already won the race; do not depend upon running alone or delay due to shame at your own weakness. I was inclined to lament that I did not have the cardio endurance of my partner, but found it far better to be grateful for his strength in the face of my weakness. As in this painful long run, rejoicing in and relying upon the strengths of other believers can bolster our spirits through difficulty and grow us so that, next time, we can endure greater lengths with greater joy.

This race is a relay; do not go it alone.

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