It’s been a while. I love running but several months ago I took a bit of a spill and injured my knees. So, it’s been a while. Even during the early times when I first got injured there was a sense of loss. I know, that sounds a little extreme and a little pathetic. And let’s be clear, I was neither running particularly fast nor for particularly long distances. But I ran.
However, the injury caused a more-than-temporary pause in my running and although I’m back at a place to get running again now that the injury has healed, it brought to mind an admonition for life from which we can all benefit.
You see, when I have run regularly there is no doubt that I draw a sense of energy even as I exert it, and there is an huge feeling of accomplishment when I’m done. But there are often times in the midst of my runs when I get to a point of exhaustion. For longer runs, that’s called hitting the wall. It’s a point when both physically AND mentally we get to a place when we just want to stop. Like a point when I feel like I can’t take another step, and I don’t want to take another step. When you hit that place both physically and mentally, it’s a pretty daunting impediment, and it’s super tough to keep running. But that’s exactly what we should do. Keep running. In life, too.
We all have seasons in life when things get difficult. Really difficult. Like difficult to the point that it feels too difficult to just get up in the morning and move on. I can think of many of my friends, including some of you reading, who have trudged through unimaginably difficult times with health, family relations, financial peril, and the like. The magnitude of courage you had to simply arise in the morning and get on with the day can’t be overstated. I have to admit, I haven’t (yet) been there. But I guess most of us will, at some point.
The bible acknowledges times such as these in life, and speaks to the importance of mustering the will to keep running.
We can rejoice, too, when we run into problems and trials, for we know that they help us develop endurance. And endurance develops strength of character, and character strengthens our confident hope of salvation. And this hope will not lead to disappointment. For we know how dearly God loves us, because he has given us the Holy Spirit to fill our hearts with his love.
Dear brothers and sisters, when troubles of any kind come your way, consider it an opportunity for great joy. For you know that when your faith is tested, your endurance has a chance to grow. So let it grow, for when your endurance is fully developed, you will be perfect and complete, needing nothing.
Now, there are some common elements in both of these passages, and they warrant both mention and comment. The Romans passage says we should “rejoice” when we hit these hard times. James says those are opportunities for “great joy.” Huh?
Living here in Central Texas, there’s about four months of the year where, when I run no matter the time of day, the weather makes it really difficult. I literally get to points when I’m so out of gas that I don’t want to keep running, no matter what. So, saying that in times of great difficulty and trial in life we should “rejoice” or have “great joy,” is like saying that in the moments when I totally feel crushed and with nothing left in the tank – hot, sweaty, thirsty, and in pain – I should be giddy about it. It makes no sense, and I can assure you it’s the last thing on my mind in those times.
But we have to read the entire passage for each of these to understand why we should “rejoice” and have “great joy.” Paul tells the Romans that we should keep running because in those times the decision to do so helps us develop endurance. Not just endurance, but successively, character and hope. James says similarly; our endurance “has a chance to grow,” to the point of completion. That is, the more we keep running in those moments, the more we will be able to keep running in later, possibly harder, moments.
In my running, I’ve learned that. When I finish a tough run, or a long run, I can literally think in a later difficult one about how I got through the prior ones. In a way, knowing that I did, helps me to feel more confident that I can.
God wants us to know the same thing. The challenges and struggles we face are not punishment or purposeless. They’re providential and preparatory. When God ushers us through them by His grace and through our persistence and perseverance, He “develops strength of character” in us, and reminds us “how dearly God loves us.” When our “endurance has a chance to grow,” and “is fully developed,” then we have the ability to rely on it in our next trials, knowing we’ll be perfectly prepared, “complete, needing nothing.”
Please know, I am not trying to minimize the really hard times in life. There are real-life situations when what we really need is professional help and support. I acknowledge and support that. Yet, the significant majority of the challenging seasons in our lives don’t rise to those levels.
In my times running, what I now try to do, is when I hit the hard spots, I keep running. Maybe not at the same pace, and I guarantee it isn’t much of a sight to see, but I keep running, slowly but surely. It’s because of the times in the past when I chose to keep running, that I can have greater confidence for the present, and hope for the future.
We should do the same thing in our everyday lives. Those rough spots will hit, and we’ll be tempted to stop. But we need to press on. Even if we slow down. Just keep running.
Soli Deo gloria!