Races of All Kinds

I took a leap of faith back in May and signed up to run the Memphis St. Jude Marathon. Since I had just re-injured my hamstrings and messed them up pretty good, it really was a leap of faith. I sought comfort, healing, and direction through a blessing from Heavenly Father given through someone who holds God’s holy priesthood. I was promised that I would be given the resources I needed to recover and run.

Those promises have held true, and I am still able to run, and am running faster, farther, and stronger than I ever have before in my life. Even so, it takes a lot of commitment and time to train for a marathon. There are days when I just want to quit. That’s why I signed up to be a fundraiser — it gives me more accountability to carry me through my low motivation times.

I think all this training is why the first few verses of Hebrews 12 caught my eye this morning: lay aside the sins and weight of this world, run with patience the race set before us, and look to Jesus as the author and finisher of our faith.

Sins and Weight of the World

One of the first things I learned as a runner is that weight matters. I learned very quickly that you don’t carry anything unnecessary while you run. Hardcore runners watch their weight and words like “eating” and “dining” transform into the idea of “fueling.” Lightweight synthetic fabrics are preferred to heavier cotton. Extra pounds means slower times.

How interesting and hauntingly accurate, then, to compare sins and cares of the world to extra weight that a runner would carry! It becomes one of those “do I really believe” points of the gospel. Do I really believe that God’s grace is sufficient? Do I really believe that living the gospel provides prosperity in ways that nothing in the world ever can? Do I really believe that there is a life after this one, and that it works the way God says? Do I believe that to obey is better than sacrifice, that obedience and sacrifice unlock the blessings of heaven, and that obedience is the key to becoming enough like God to be ready to live with Him again?

If I do, then I will be willing to set aside the things that are so prized in the cultures of this world and seek for the things that Heavenly Father says are of the most eternal worth, enduring the derision of others, if necessary.

Run Our Race With Patience

One of the big things about training for a marathon is time. I lose most of a Saturday when my runs get above 15 miles, because I also have to plan time to recover from the wear and tear on my body. It can get hard as the minutes turn into hours and there are still “a ton” of miles to complete before my training is finished. My brain starts focusing in on the discomfort in my body and another part starts running and re-running my todo list in my head. Even have music that brings me joy pulsing in my ears doesn’t completely undo the discouragement. It becomes so tempting to “throw my run” and just turn around and walk home. Having people fly by me as I fight not to fall apart makes the whole effect worse. It doesn’t matter that they might have just started out on their run, have personal running coaches, or anything like it. I now have to fight the feelings that I’m just not a good enough runner to pull this marathon off.

Life can be that way, too. It’s so easy to think that getting baptized and working my way through “the checklist” of items that the missionaries taught me will bring me the easy road and I can just coast into heaven. Just like there’s no way to really understand the cost of training for a marathon, there’s no way to really comprehend the personal costs of truly becoming a disciple of Christ. There can be a sense of loneliness as friends, colleagues, and acquaintances continue their “normal” lives and we can’t participate in activities because of our commitment to Christ. Temperance can cause us to feel a heavy sense of self-denial and even unfair treatment from God — we work to do the right thing no matter what we feel and it looks like God is letting us be punished for someone else’s crimes. Bad things happen, and we find out that there is no guarantee in our gospel covenant that we won’t have to deal with death, divorce, abuse, floods, fires, illness, and everything else that is common to mortal existence.

Running this race with patience, then, can mean choosing to hold onto faith when all of our physical senses combine with reason to tell us there is no hope and we’re just crazy. It means being willing  to check in with Heavenly Father and accept a tough and even unfair job event because He still wants us to stay for purposes we don’t even understand. It means being willing to do anything we are asked to do to make our corner of the world a little more like heaven, even if what we are asked to do is simply to continue in a holding pattern until, in the Lord’s timing, it is time to make a change.

Look to Jesus as the Author and Finisher of Our Faith

I began my marathon training as an act of faith, and I still don’t know how it will turn out. Going back to my teaching job about a month ago has been a game-changer — for the worse. I’m struggling with a lot of sleep deprivation, and it has cost me dearly in my training. I have been at the point of having to back off on my training or risk serious injury for a couple of weeks. Still I have faith that, if I hold to my training schedule and work as hard as I can at it, I will be able to complete the marathon and have an experience in my life that I can look back on with fondness — not just because I ran the race, but also because the whole experience of training and preparing has made me a better person.

In the end, that last idea — that my experiences and your experiences as mortals on earth will give us the opportunities we need to become better than we were — sums up the whole purpose of the Savior’s earthly ministry. He came to provide an infinite Atonement that could cleanse us from every sin, misdeed, and impure impulse we have ever experienced. He created the opportunity for us not just to be cleansed, but to learn to be like Him and ultimately live as He now lives. He finishes our faith by providing us more than we could even dream when we leave this earthly life. He even fills the in-betweens by providing us His example, guidance, strength, peace, hope, and every other good and perfect gift from heaven that we require to complete our mortal race.

So, in the end, am I willing to keep my eyes on eternity (the finish line) and let everything unnecessary to reaching that goal fall out of my life? Am I willing to keep going when the race route looks too difficult or even is hard to see? Do I trust that the Savior has and will continue to equip me with all that I need to be successful in my quest? If so, I need to make sure my walk (choices and actions) back up my talk.