This past weekend, I and some good friends lined up with 45,000 other runners at dark:30 on a chilly Sunday morning for the Chicago Marathon. The atmosphere was charged as runners stretched, jogged in place, ate their chosen power breakfast, listened to their pump up music, willed the jitters away and thought about the run ahead. The national anthem was sung, and then the handicapped and wheelchair participants took off. Then the elite runners were announced and they blasted off, never to be seen by us averages again.
Then its our turn. We start running. One foot in front of the other. For 26.2 miles. Elbow to elbow with our fellow runners from all over the world and all different skill levels. The entire range of emotions will be felt over the next 4+/- hours. I’ve never physically reached deeper for anything than that last 6 miles of a marathon. Never felt that same level of satisfaction and relief than what I feel crossing that finish line. The whole experience is incredibly inspiring and rich with spiritual meaning.
But this time it was the fans that got me. All of you who supported me/World Vision/the poor financially before I ever ran. And then Chicago showed up. Somewhere around a million of them came out that morning—approximately 20 for each runner. They make the race the emotional and triumphant day that it is. I would go so far as to say they are necessary for finishing well. They line the streets and hold signs and random food items. They scream and clap and chant and sing and pound on drums. They cheer their hearts out for hours on end, mostly for perfect strangers.
They go bananas regardless of your pace, race or appearance. They hold signs that say “A 12-minute mile is the same distance as a 6-minute mile. Way to go!” or “Forward is a pace.” I noticed that when a wheelchair rolled by or a blind man running with a guide, those maybe voted least likely to finish, the cheering got louder and more enthusiastic.
Around mile 23, the look on my face was somewhere in the miserable to desperate category. At that point the fans really kicked in and would look right at me, with emotion in their own voices, and say, “I know you can do this. I believe in you. I’m so proud of you. Reach deep. You can finish.” And my tears would flow. And I would put one foot in front of the other. A friend ran from mile 13 to the finish line with me. I would not have finished nearly as well without someone running beside me. Stephen encouraged me. Sometimes gently. Sometimes firmly. “Liza, around this corner is the finish line and you’re going to give everything you have left, ok?” I nodded and cried some more and gave everything I had left. And I made it. And it was glorious. And I won’t be doing that again anytime soon.
After I took a hot shower and threw my tennis shoes away, I couldn’t help but think, I have so much to learn here. What if I cheered with this sort of abandon in real life? What if the church was this sort of support for each other as we strive to keep our eyes on Jesus and finish the race? What if we were so free from selfishness or needing to defend and protect our domain that we could wildly cheer for others? No matter how fast your pace or how professional your attire and gate. And what if those that are least likely to succeed would get twice the cheers instead of the side-eye? And when it gets hardest, we would look each other in the face and say, “I know you can do this. I believe in you. I’m so proud of you. Keep your eyes on Jesus. You can finish.” And that we would commit to a few, to jump into their race and run alongside them, willing to sacrifice so that they finish well.
If you think about it, we are MOST equipped for this task of being FOR other people instead of self focused. Because, none of the resources are our own, and when we use all of those that we’ve been given, we’re promised more. Not to mention that we literally have the same. exact. goal. Get to the place where all the Beauty came from and bring as many people with us as possible. Your win is my win. Let’s get creative and focused and determined to be unrelenting encouragers of each other, want to? It makes a difference, friends, oh does it make all the difference!
“Let us think of ways to motivate one another to acts of love and good works.” Hebrews 10:24
“I have given them the glory you gave me, so they may be one as we are one. I am in them and you are in me. May they experience such perfect unity that the world will know that you sent me and that you love them as much as you love me.” John 17, NLT
“Therefore, since we are surrounded by such a huge crowd of witnesses to the life of faith, let us strip off every weight that slows us down, especially the sin that so easily trips us up. And let us run with endurance the race God has set before us. We do this by keeping our eyes on Jesus, the champion who initiates and perfects our faith. Because of the joy awaiting him, he endured the cross, disregarding its shame. Now he is seated in the place of honor beside God’s throne.” Hebrews 12, NLT