I went running with my friend Bethany the other night, because the weather was perfect and she assured me we would only be gone twenty minutes.
I should have know she was lying about that time frame when she said, "We're going to run to the park!"
I knew how far away the park was. I knew there was no way in the world I was going to make it there and back in twenty minutes. But I believed her, and borrowed a pair of running shorts.
Here's what you should know: Bethany is actually a runner. She runs, and she loves it, and she can literally run circles around me (I know this because she did so).
Very shortly into our run, Bethany was leaps and bounds ahead of me. Meanwhile...my side hurt. My breath was labored. I was well past my two-block running limit and pretty over the whole thing.
But STUPID BETHANY wouldn't let me quit. When it became clear I wasn't going to run the literal whole way, she said, "Let's do interval training!" She picked a distant target and made me sprint there. Walk, run, walk, run.
All. The. Way. To. The. Park.
Whenever she hit the goal ahead of me (which was literally every time), she would turn around and yell "YOU CAN DO IT. DON'T STOP," until I got to her.
On the run home, I was every kind of done. EVERY KIND (which I continued to let Bethany know. Loudly). But Bethany was having none of it. She continued to coach me through how to run, and breathe, and wouldn't let me stop doing either one.
So there we were: Bethany running with energy and strength, graceful as a gazelle prancing into the sunset. And me. Wheezing and shuffling along behind her, glasses bouncing on my nose (incredibly disorienting), and arms flapping. Like a little basset hound puppy. But not in a cute way.
If I'd been running by myself, I'd have quit long before that point. But Bethany The Distance Running Olympian kept calling over her shoulder, "You're doing great! Keep going!"
As I heard her far-away voice yelling at me, I had another thought about running:
When someone else is running with you, and encouraging you, and in the fight with you, it is possible to run a lot farther.
You know what? I am quick to read a sentence like that and say, “Right! My community! That’s whose encouragement I should be listening for!”
And, yes, it's really great to have a tribe of people who (hopefully) love you enough to yell at you to run faster even when you don’t want to. (s/o to Susie, Bethany, Kelby, Keltcey, and Alyssa: y'all were the real MVPs this week.)
But they’re not the ultimate source of encouragement.
In the moments you are too weak to carry on by yourself, and burdens become too much to bear, and you want nothing more than to give up, the greatest encouragement will come from the One who already finished the race.
The beautiful thing is, Jesus isn’t just waiting for you at the finish line, shouting at you to run better.
He will run right to you, then fall in step next to you and whisper encouragement in you ear:
In me, anything is possible. In me, you can run without getting weary. Keep going, beloved.
Oh. How. Sweet. You are not running this race alone, friend. I say that as someone who literally just realized yesterday that she was not running her race alone. It's a game-changer of an epiphany, let me tell you.
(Which maybe means I should keep running. The spiritual analogies are almost worth the pain I am currently feeling in my legs.)
When you're ready to LITERALLY THROW UP from the effort of running your race, there is great encouragement in Hebrews 6:
So when God desired to show more convincingly to the heirs of the promise the unchangeable character of his purpose, he guaranteed it with an oath, so that by two unchangeable things, in which it is impossible for God to lie, we who have fled for refuge might have strong encouragement to hold fast to the hope set before us. We have this as a sure and steadfast anchor of the soul, a hope that enters into the inner place behind the curtain, where Jesus has gone as a forerunner on our behalf.
He ran ahead of us, to prepare the way. And he runs alongside us, to enable us to finish the race.
Amen amen amen. Cool cool cool.