In for the Spiritual Long Haul
I was driving along yesterday and spied a bumper sticker on the car in front of me. I had never seen that sticker. I have always liked bumper stickers. They have been around for a long time. I see bumper stickers as part of American cultural media. The sticker communicates just as much as a tv advertisement or radio commercial. Sometimes the sticker is literally advertising some business. Others are humorous pieces and even others cover a range of communication options.
The sticker on the car in front of me was round. At the top in fairly bold numbers I read 13.1. Since I am a runner, I knew exactly what that meant. It “told” me that someone in that car had run a half-marathon. A half-marathon is 13.1 miles. I have run quite a few half-marathons in my life---maybe 50 of them. Had the sticker said 26.2, I would know there was a marathon runner in the car. I also have run about a dozen of the full marathons, so I know something of the experience.
Because I have run these races, I have experience that is immediately tapped into just seeing the 13.1. But that was not all of the sticker. It also had three short lines. Fortunately, we rolled to a halt at a red light. I crept closer so I could read the sticker text.
The top line said, “courage to begin.” I smiled. “Yep, that’s true,” I thought. It does take some courage to begin the process of getting ready to run 13 miles. And it certainly takes some courage to step to the line and take off with a bunch of others knowing that it is not going to be a short trip. I know the world-class runners can do a half-marathon in barely over an hour! Even in my younger days, it took me nearly an hour and a half.
The second line read, “strength to endure.” This is the hard part of the half-marathon or the full marathon. The beginning is easy. When one is in shape for the marathon, the first few miles are not too bad. It does take courage to begin, but once you are into it, it is ok. But then come the middle and those miles after the middle of the race. Here one needs to begin tapping into the strength to endure. The body starts asking to quit! This is when the strength to endure kicks in to overcome the weakness of quitting.
The third line of the bumper sticker read, “resolve to finish.” I liked that one. At some point in the race, the lure to slow and to stop is very enticing. This is precisely the point to muster that resolve to finish. A half-marathon is not “almost 13.1 miles.” You either finish or you DNF---Did Not Finish. I never won a race in my life. But I have finished every race I ran. And that is personal success---my victory.
Then it occurred to me. This is a wonderful analogy to the spiritual journey most of us have entered. A spiritual journey is almost never a sprint. We don’t decide on Friday night to begin the spiritual journey and then wind it up on Sunday morning! We don’t do the spiritual journey, sit back and say, “Well, that was easy!” Of course not. Our spiritual journey is a marathon or, at best, a half-marathon.
Probably for many of us, it took a little courage to begin. It is tempting to find excuses for not beginning. “I’ll wait till I’m a little older” works well as an excuse. “I don’t have time right now” is a classic. “I don’t know how” is a showstopper. We need some courage to begin.
But we need to remember that typically the beginning of a marathon or a spiritual journey is easy. It does not take too much effort to begin. We are usually fresh and the motivation is there. But then the race and spiritual journey starts to take its toll.
At that point we must know there is strength that we can muster to endure. A big part of me does not like that word, “endure,” but I also know how very important it is. Not to endure is to fail. Lack of endurance means I will always be a beginner or a quitter. I like running the races because there are other runners along side me. Of course, the good and quick ones have already left me in the dust. But there are ones around me. We are mutual supporters of each other. They encourage me with a “can do” attitude. They help me with my own strength to endure.
In a marathon or a spiritual journey, the finish line is usually so far away it is a long time before we ever see it. Unless I begin my spiritual journey on my deathbed, I have a long ways to go. Inevitably there will be hills and other obstacles, just as there are in a real marathon. At some point and, perhaps at many points, I have to tap into the resolve to finish. To resolve is to reach a firm decision. It is a matter of deciding, “I will finish this,” and then doing it.
I don’t know anything about heaven. That is not my personal finish line. If it is there, fair enough. But my finish line of my spiritual journey is to live deeply, love broadly, and appreciate life as God has gifted me with that life. To get there is a marathon. But I am on the spiritual run. I’m in for the spiritual long haul.