I know this race is not a sprint, but a marathon ...
When I was in the Burlington, Mich., elementary school, we had what were called Field Days. The whole school was involved, and we could sign up ahead of time for the field event for which we felt most suited. There were the standing broad jump, the running broad jump, the high jump, the discus throw, the relay race and the 100-yard dash. Maybe there were more events — I don’t remember.
I wasn’t very athletic. I couldn’t even throw a softball well enough to make the girls’ summer team, so discus throwing was out of my league entirely, and only tall girls with long legs seemed to excel at the 100-yard dash. But I always tried the running broad jump and the high jump. For the broad jump, someone stood at the side of the sawdust pit to mark and then measure how far from the jumping line one landed. More graceful, stronger kids always beat me out in that one.
The high jump was performed by jumping over a cane pole resting on pegs in two parallel vertical posts. The slightest touch would dislodge the pole. The object was to get a running start, then hurl one’s body over the pole. Each successful try was followed by the official moving the pole up one more increment on the posts. The long, lean type was always superior to me in that event.
You can understand, then, why the metaphor of a race has not been the scriptural comparison to most inspire me. A wave of fifth-grade nausea always seemed to swell in my stomach whenever I read Hebrews 12 and felt Paul start in on me as a runner and the spiritual journey as a Field Day event.
But now that I’m older and wiser, I am coming to believe the race so often referred to in the Bible is not a l00-yard dash or a broad jump (running or standing) or a high jump or a discus throw. I’m coming to believe that these verses aren’t even about winning. The race, I am discovering, is not a sprint; it’s a marathon. And the object of this life event is to finish!
It doesn’t matter whether I run, jog or eventually manage to drag my pulsating, throbbing body over the finish line. The point is to finish, to get there without quitting. I’m coming to see that whenever I think I can’t go another inch, there is a support team running alongside to catch me when my knees buckle. There are fans in the bleachers all along the well-planned and chosen course that have long since found this race possible by finishing it themselves. At every bend in the track, there they are, cheering and encouraging at the top of their lungs. “Yes! You can! You can make it.” In the body of Christ, that’s what friends are for.
And I am finally coming to know that endurance is what the Coach is after. He’s not interested in spurts of flashy athletic prowess. He isn’t impressed by sleek bodies, rippling muscles or perfect physiques. It’s determination He adores. It’s the earnest pursuit of the goal that makes Him proud. It’s the beauty of the gift of commitment to the experience itself — staying the course, keeping the faith and enjoying the journey.
The trophy is engraved not with “First Place Winner,” not with “Most Valuable Player,” but with “Faithful Until the End.” I, even I, can sign up with confidence for that. I may not be good, but I can be stubbornly persistent to the end.