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Tuesday, October 14, 2014

Finding the Finish Through Faith

In early September one morning, I set out to run nine miles.  I had been training all summer for the Army Ten Miler as a member of a team honoring Mathias, a very special boy fighting osteosarcoma I had just over a month until race day and I had written "9" on my calendar.  So, before I ran, I posted on it because you know nothing really happens until it's been sent out to the blogosphere ;)

I've been running for about 10 years.  I always have a set number of miles in my mind that I am going to complete before I take that first step and honestly, I can count on one hand the times that I have set out to do a certain number and quit before I reached that number.  That is not to pat myself on the back.  That is just to say that if I don't think it will happen, I don't even put on my shoes.

Well, I set out for my nine.  And I "did" nine . . .technically.  But I only ran 7 3/4 and walked the rest.  And I felt like a complete failure.  I cannot tell you how disappointed I was with myself that I could not keep running for that last 1.25 miles.  I was utterly, completely ashamed and annoyed with myself.  Around 6 1/2, I knew I was in trouble and that's when all my bargaining and mind games started up.

This was not the first time I had played these little mind tricks   Often when I hit a wall in running, I make a series of bets or bargains.  I always thought these little tricks had gotten me to the finish in the past and maybe sometimes they had a part in it.  That day, I started with harmless thoughts, maybe even appropriate motivators. Think of Mathias and how much pain he has struggled.  You think your legs hurt?  Don't be a pansy.  Think of all the children you've met at the hospital fighting so much harder to breathe than you are right now.  Pull yourself together.  You are FINE.  Can you do this for them?  This is all okay, but then the real crazy talk started.

I bargained with God, with myself, with the universe, with fate - all of which is ridiculous and totally out of line with my Christian faith.  I started to play God in my head.  If you were told that a little boy's scans would be better if you made it one more mile, you could make it, couldn't you?  If you were told your kids would not be tempted by drugs and alcohol and suffer addiction problems if you ran one more mile, you could do it, couldn't you?  If you were told that the mammogram would be clear despite the family history, if you just ran one more, you could do it, could you not?

Am I the only one who does this though? Certainly, my mind games were extreme, but what about these other small minded prayers?  If I go to church every day this month will you think I am religious enough, God?  If I recycle every last piece of paper in my house will you think I'm an excellent steward, God?  If I say "yes" to every single committee I am asked to join aren't I the perfect servant, God? 

Well, I walked that last mile and a quarter slowly and came in the house, shirt soaked through, completely depleted, muscles screaming for hydration.  I felt hopeless and disappointed, like I had let not only myself down, but men and women and children the world over.  Heck, I had even failed my country - the American mantra of mind over matter, make it happen, just do it.  I just didn't.  With shoulders slumped and face drawn, I took a shower and lay myself down on the floor of my family room for the rest of the day.  I watched three episodes of Sex and the City and then switched to Dance Moms.

(Can we talk about Dance Moms another day because y'all, what in the world is wrong with those women?)

Somewhere around hour four of mindless tv, I realized how foolish I was being.  Besides the fact that I don't have to perform for anyone, I had left for my run on just about the hottest day of the summer.  I had left after 9:00 am when the temperature had climbed significantly higher than it was when I should have left at 7:00 am.  The humidity that day was close to 1,025%.  For four days prior to the run I had been on a no carb eating plan.

As I lay there listening to the Dance Moms argue I pictured God saying, "Girl, don't be arrogant and shallow.  Don't play mind games. Your plans are not my plans.  And that plan wasn't a good one, sister." 

The more I thought about it, the more I realized that these little mind tricks might be more than just silly. To imagine even for a minute that my performance, my endurance, my will hold the keys to big, important matters under heaven?  I'm not sure it's a harmless game.  Even pretending that whether I run two miles or four miles or no miles can change the course of a life is small minded and faithless, for a gal who writes about trust in a God in control of the entire flippin' universe.

Here's what I know.  My God?  He doesn't play and He doesn't bargain.  He is not impressed with nine miles or two miles.  He's impressed with a faith that can't see.  An obedience that doesn't falter.  A humility that puts His power above mine.

The book of Ephesians tells us that it is by grace we have been saved, through faith and not by works.

Two days ago, I got up in the dark, early hours of the morning and drove to the Pentagon.  I took my place among over 25,000 runners on a cool, bright, sunny day.

I remembered again, it is not what I do.  It is not what I say.  It is not my will, my power, my decision making.  I need not bargain with Him.  He might not answer my prayers the way I think He should.  He might not cure cancer today.  He might not keep my children from struggles.  He might take the people I love to heaven before I want them to go.  He doesn't ask me to do anything to make this so or not so. He requires nothing of me but to act justly, to love mercy and to walk humbly with Him.  No gift, no skill, no talent will ever repay what He did and does and will do for me. I can run ten miles.  I can run three.   I can walk to the corner of the block and give up.  I can sit on my rear end and watch seven episodes of Dance Moms. The character and the power and the redemptive love of my God does not play.  He does not change.  He is everlasting and forever present.

I tightened my shoe laces on Sunday morning and I sent up a quick prayer.  Be with me.  Be with Mathias.  Be with his family.  Get me to the finish line.

He did. 

I will not bargain with Him.  I will not rely on my own strength and will.  I will trust Him and His plan.  I will know that it has purpose and that in His timing, by His hand we will all make it to the finish line, not because of what we do but because of who He is.