Philippians 3: 13-14
“This one thing I do: Forgetting those things which are behind and reaching forth unto those things which are before, I press toward the mark for the prize of the high calling of God in Christ Jesus.”
Tyler ran his first marathon in 2012, straight out of the box. No training. He just decided he was going to do it, and he did. Then one day, we had this conversation:
“Mom, I think you should run a marathon with me.”
Silly boy. I couldn’t even run a full lap around the track without stopping to catch my breath–and he wanted me to run a marathon? Jarry was the running parent in the family, not I. I told Tyler that I thought he had set the bar a little high.
So I started training. Secretly. On the day I ran ten consecutive ten-minute miles, I made my announcement: I am running a marathon. For the next nine months, my life revolved around that marathon: what I ate and drank, how much I slept, what I read, my conversation–it all came back to one thing. I hungrily gobbled up advice and tips from training schedules to carb consumption. I became consumed with one thing.
As the date of the marathon approached, the reactions of my friends varied. My family put up with endless commentary on the current state of my progress. Martha Jo Denton, who had run a marathon the previous year, was a great cheerleader. Brandon Downs bet Tara $5 that I wouldn’t run the whole way. Tom Holladay was skeptical, but promised me the biggest party he’d ever thrown if I ran the entire way.
And then the day arrived. I lined up with Tyler and the other runners waiting for the starting gun. I was pumped. I was focused. I was ready to do this thing. I am not a fast runner, but I kept a steady pace, breathing easy, enjoying the chilly February air and the exhilaration of the moment. Somewhere around mile 21, I felt a horrible, debilitating pain in my left knee. I remembered an article I had read about aspiring marathon runners who trained for hundreds of hours, only to be sidelined before the finish line with an injury: The accompanying photographs, their heart-wrenching faces, the disappointment–and now it seemed to be happening to me. I thought back over the summer, fall, and winter of running: the sweat, the sore muscles, the blisters, the ice baths, the sacrifice of free time. I recalled the blatant skepticism. And I also thought back to the trust that my son had in me that I could run a marathon. And I ran. In agonizing slow motion it seemed, but I ran with one goal in mind: I was going to finish, and I was going to run the whole way.
And I did.
The morning after the marathon, I saw an article in the paper with a picture of a huge African elephant at the starting line. I asked Tyler, if he saw the elephant. I was so focused on my goal that I ran right by an elephant and didn’t see it. But I did it. I ran a marathon. Every step. Tom Holladay never did throw that party, but Tara did collect her $5 from Brandon Downs. And I joined a fairly elite group of athletes. 26.2 miles. As a point of reference, that’s roughly the distance from Thomasville to Greensboro. I ran a marathon.
Paul often used sporting metaphors in referencing the Christian life. Here, in his letter to the Philippians, he urges us so. We have a goal to strive for. We haven’t crossed the finish line of our lives yet. We prepare ourselves in this race by communing with God daily through Bible reading and prayer. We purposefully surround ourselves with Godly influences and friends who will encourage us in our Christian walk. We prioritize church attendance over sleeping in and recreation. We pinpoint the areas which need training. We press forward, ignoring the elephants of discouragement and despair. Not who we are, nor what we’ve done, neither our triumphs nor our failures matter. Forgetting the things behind us we reach toward a goal, the prize: not a medal on a ribbon to wear around our neck, or the acclaim of our loved ones, but the high calling of Jesus Christ. One day, when we finish our course and cross the finish line, knowing we have run well, we will attain the highest prize. Eternal life with Christ Jesus.