1 Corinthians 9:24-27 (New Living Translation)
Don’t you realize that in a race everyone runs, but only one person gets the prize? So run to win! All athletes are disciplined in their training. They do it to win a prize that will fade away, but we do it for an eternal prize. So I run with purpose in every step. I am not just shadowboxing. I discipline my body like an athlete, training it to do what it should. Otherwise, I fear that after preaching to others I myself might be disqualified.
Right up until he injured his knee, my Dad loved running marathons. I witnessed his devotion to a structured training schedule. I saw the exercises that helped him prepare. I knew that it was a priority for him to get a long run in several times each week, and shorter runs in between, ramping up as race day came closer. We loved cheering him on from the sidelines of the races, and seeing him cross the finish line.
But it wasn’t until I ran a 5-kilometer race with friends a few years ago that I began to fully appreciate the depth of effort involved. I was in fairly good shape, so when a group from the church wanted me to run, I decided to join in at the last minute. After all, I thought, how hard could it be?
Oh boy, I had no idea! I started out well, running along at what I thought was a respectable pace. But it was too slow for most of my group — all of whom had actually trained — so they quickly deserted me. One sweet, gracious friend stuck with me as I began to huff and puff and had to slow to a walk. Then run. Then walk again. A friend yelled from the sidelines: “Hey! It’s called the ‘Run Like a Bunny 5K,’ not ‘Walk Like a Bunny!!!'” I stuck my tongue out at her as I hastily downed a cup of water before continuing on. (That was, according to the inevitable rules of Murphy’s Law, when the course photographer snapped my picture. How was I to know there were paparazzi hiding in the bushes?)
I did make it the full 5K, and my group cheered as we crossed the finish line. Running a race was SOOOO much harder than I anticipated. And lack of training made it nigh impossible.
That’s why I love Paul’s use of the running metaphor in today’s reading. Just as it takes time to build up the endurance and skill level you need to run a long race, so we need to be disciplined in strengthening ourselves spiritually. How often have I heard someone say, “If only I had faith like my friend ________. Then I wouldn’t be struggling like this.” Well, the truth is that — most likely — your friend didn’t immediately possess that faith for which you yearn. It took time to develop and deepen their connection with God. It took hard life lessons. It took study and practice and vulnerability and persistence and diligence.
But, oh!, it is worth it!
What spiritual practices have you been considering, but haven’t started because you’re worried about making the commitment?