Running the Race that is Set Before Us
My last two years in High School, I ran track in the spring. I was no star, and was basically looking to the sport to improve my wind and speed for the upcoming soccer seasons. Still, it was a great experience. By great, I mean difficult and challenging effort bounded by the support and exhortations of my teammates and coaches. I was a runner and a hurdler, and our weekly routine was balanced between practicing technique while working on speed and endurance training.
The endurance training is what I am referencing today.
We had two "long" runs in our routine. There was a red barn that sat about 3 miles from the school's campus, down a country road. A "short" red barn was just over 4 miles long. We would take a shorter route on our return to the track. The "long" red barn was just over 8 miles. We never knew which red barn run we would be getting when we arrived and changed into our training clothes. The coach would come out of his office and call out "Long Red," or "Short Red" and then everyone would take off.
The wrinkle in the fabric of that moment? Often he would modify the workout. He would add "Indian file" sprints (those were less politically correct days) to the mix. That meant that we would be running in single file for day, with the last person in the line being tasked with sprinting to the front. The drill would continue until we returned home. He would also tells us that he would "meet us at the barn" on some days. That meant that we would be practicing sprinting drills on a steep hill near the barn...after which we would then run back to the locker room. On top of that, remember it was early spring in Ohio, and that really means "late winter." The cold and ever-present winds would work into our legs, our joints and would burn any exposed skin into tender, chapped redness.
Running those workouts was a brutal experience. Finishing those workouts was a profound relief and release. Tired muscles clenched against the wind would warm and relax, even as our skin would thaw. Lungs would fill more deeply with air, and our heartbeats would slow. There was also a deeper sense in us being a part of a community. No one got through those workouts on their own. Everyone benefited from the mutual support and exhortations to keep up we gave each other. No one was left behind...we were never done, said our coach, until everyone was back. Sometimes, the fastest runners would circle back to run with the slowest.
Every time I come across this idea that following God's call is like running a race, I go back to those wintry afternoons on that back country road. I remember the hard effort of pushing our bodies to go that extra distance, to push the pace.
When I come to this passage in Hebrews, I also remember the fact that every race-competitive or not-is a shared experience. Generations of runners who served that team ran that road before I and my cohort came along. Many, many more have run it since.
When we run our race, and remember that we are truly surrounded by a great cloud of witnesses, we are acknowledge that we are part of something bigger than we are. At the same time, our personal contributions not only add to the narrative of the whole span of God's purposes for creation, they are also an essential and integral portion of the whole.