I’m a runner. I didn’t really believe that when I was younger. My mom had always pushed me to pursue a running career. She always said “you were born to run.” And if you look at home videos from when I was a toddler and young child, I was always running. Don’t ask why, I just had to go. I played soccer for 17 years. I was the center midfielder my entire career and if you are familiar with the sport, you know that a midfielder’s sole purpose is to run the length of the field, all game long. Most of my career, I played all 60 to 90 minutes, depending on length of play. I ran all game long. But I hated running. When my mom invited me to go for a run with her, I would look at her like are you crazy. Why would I want to go for a run?
Ironically, I wound up lacing up my soccer cleats for the last time during my senior year of high school and traded them in for track spikes and trail shoes. Yep, I became a mid distance runner and hurdler, and cross country athlete. I lived and breathed running. It became my entire life. I had a goal, and I ran after it full speed. Everyone told me I was crazy. They said that by leaving soccer, I was giving up my chance to play a collegiate sport. I was told over and over that there was no way I could run collegiate track. After a season plagued by injury after injury, I was offered two track scholarships to NCAA D2 schools and the opportunity to run Division 1 at Sacramento State. Their doubts only fueled me to work harder, to run faster, to chase my dreams.
I run fearlessly towards the things I want. I have tunnel vision. When I set up in the blocks, the only thing I could see was the hurdle in front of me. It was my race. Me versus me. When I am on the start line of a Spartan Race or 10K, it’s just me. When I have a goal in life, it’s the same way. I don’t see the obstacles, I don’t see the things that try to lead me astray, I just see the end goal. But I run away from things too. I run away from things I am not good at. I run away from things that hurt me. I may be fearless in pursuit of my dreams, but I am fearful of failure. When my faith is tested, when my heart is shaken, I run away. When I feel guilty and convicted, I run to the shadows in fear of judgement.
But what I need to do, is run to the light. Run to forgiveness and run to freedom. When life gets hard, when temptation seeps into our lives, it is easy to seek isolation out of fear but we need to run towards God, not away from Him. Here’s my proposition, let’s build our endurance. Let’s not just be sprinters in our faith. Getting those quick, passionate bursts of faithfulness followed by exhaustion, but instead build a foundation of lasting and enduring faith.
You know what happens when you are a runner for a long time? You get aches and pains, and eventually you wind up injured. Shin splits, sprained ankles, then one day a torn miniscus or ACL. When running is your life, this is devastating. Same goes for our faith. We will constantly be tried and tested in ways that are annoying and frustrating but minor. Then eventually, as our faith grows, we will be faced with something bigger. And something more difficult. Our endurance and ability to overcome our greatest obstacles will be tested. Doctor, women’s leader, and best-selling author Lina AbuJamra put it this way, “The test of our faith usually comes in the areas you care the most deeply and struggle the most.” Simply put, the enemy is not going to try and break your spirit in things that don’t matter. He is going to attack you in the areas that you care about the most, the places that you are most invested. This is where we feel that chasm. That distance. That doubt. That void. This is where we begin to question everything. This is where we question God. AbuJamra continues by saying, “It is only as you learn to identify the most common obstacles in your life that you will be able to stand strong in the heat of battle.” Rather than lose hope and faith, we have to realize what is going on, what we are struggling with, and then begin to combat that. For where your treasure lies, there your heart will be also.
Your endurance is going to be tried in the place that your heart is most deeply rooted. For me, I have battled the same giants over and over since I rededicated my life to Christ almost three years ago. At first, things were easy. The fire was there. The yearning and desire to grow was insatiable. It seemed everything that I prayed for came into fruition in one way or another. But the deeper I dove into the Word, and the more mature I grew as a follower, the more challenges I began to face. I am a pretty straightforward person and if you meet me you almost automatically know where my purpose lies and what my passion in life is. Fitness and loving others. That’s it. Every facet of my life in some way goes back to my love for fitness and my desire to love people with reckless abandon. The problem is those two areas have been my Achilles heel. In regards to fitness, I have been plagued by torn ligaments, chronic injuries, ego conflicts, eating disorders, and finding balance. In terms of love, I have been taken advantage of by people I thought I could save, I have given my heart blindly to men who end up breaking it without regard, and I have isolated myself from people that care for me the most out of fear of disappointing them. I have allowed the opinions of others and the doubts in my head telling me that I am not enough, to pull me away from those things I so dearly love. I don’t have a medium, I am a high or a low person. I am an extremist by nature. I am a runner. So when I fail, when I am rejected, when I lose, I am distraught. I feel like a failure in life. Satan knows that sending in a negative customer to my work, or draining my bank account, or having something happen to my car, isn’t going to affect me or steal my joy. He knows I can brush that off. But what will crush me? Not being able to compete at the American Open. Not finishing in first place in a race or a competition that I trained my butt off for, not because I wasn’t the best, but because my knee gave out on the last obstacle. A relationship that I have prayed about, given all of my love and energy to, just to be left feeling like an option, or worse, knowing that I was just a part of a sick game. Feeling like I let down my parents or my friends or my Bible study. Knowing that someone I love is going to down a dark path and not being able to save them. Those things, those are what gut me. Those are what pull me away from God. Those things make me question things. Those make me doubt. When I feel like I am not enough, when I feel like I am not worthy, that is when I begin to slip away.
I have actually been in that season recently. Struggling. So much change, so much uncertainty. Fear and doubt. Trying to get back to where I need to be as an athlete. Trying to fight for a relationship that is crippled by distance and hurt. The first two major life events I ever faced were track career ending knee surgery, and breaking up with the man I planned to spend forever with. And recently, it has felt pretty similar. But friends listen. When I was first hurt, when I stopped looking for him, I found myself. When I stopped loving that man with all of my heart, I was able to love God with all of my heart -and that my friends, is true love. That is the greatest love of all. I learned that when you lose everything that you want, you gain everything you need. When you reach the point of being able to walk away from what you think you want in life and walk down the path God created for you, that is when you begin living. When you work to live so that you can serve others, when your sole purpose is to experience life and enrich the lives of those around you – that’s when you are living. Your idea of success and happiness is nothing compare to His.
So let’s run. Let’s run towards Him. Full speed. But let’s not burn out. Let’s build up our endurance. Through the trials, let’s lean on His promises, His faithfulness, His goodness, not on the seemingly lasting things of this world. Reflect on God’s faithfulness, identify the areas you struggle, clarify your goals, set your direction, and live out your purpose. You are never alone in this race. God is running it with you. He is your biggest fan, your greatest support. Set up a solid foundation based upon the Word of God and seek to live a life like Christ. Surround yourself with other believers and love on every person that you can. But never lose sight of that end goal. Chase Jesus Christ with all you’ve got. It’s going to be hard. There will be trials. You will get tired. But that is all a part of the journey. It’s a marathon, not a sprint.