Even youths grow tired and weary,
and young men stumble and fall;
but those who hope in the Lord
will renew their strength.
They will soar on wings like eagles;
they will run and not grow weary,
they will walk and not be faint.—Isaiah 40:30,31
“And surely I am with you always, to the very end of the age.”—Matthew 28:20
I was a sprinter in high school. My specialty was the 400-meter-dash, which is one lap around the track and takes less than a minute (when you’re 17, anyway). I also competed in the 100 and 200, and in the long jump and triple jump. I loved sprinting. It was fun to be fast. At that point in my life, I thought distance runners were crazy. I had never run more than a mile or two, and I couldn’t understand why anyone would put themselves through the pain of endurance sports. Later, when I was in my 30’s and 40’s, I fell in love with distance running, but when I was a teenager it was the furthest thing from my mind.
That’s why everyone who knew me was confused when I saw a poster in the store one day and knew that I had to have it for the wall of my room. It was a picture of a runner on a lonely desert road. The road stretched way out to the horizon, winding up a mountain and out of sight. Below the picture were these words: “There is no finish line.” I bought it, taped it up on the wall next to my bed, and spent an inexplicable amount of time lying there staring at it.
I had a friend who was on the cross-country team, and he said, “That poster doesn’t fit you. You’ve never run for more than a few minutes in your life.” He was right. I couldn’t explain it. All I knew was that that picture spoke to me. I wanted to be that guy, out on the open road, running not for the sake of competition but to explore, to see what was on the other side of that mountain. To go the distance. Somehow, I knew I was that guy, caught up in a race that would require everything I had, and that would last a lifetime.
The reality is that distance running is more true-to-life than sprinting. Sprinting is more fun to watch, more glamorous, but it’s not real life. Real life is a marathon. Real life is not lived in short spurts followed by a victory lap and a medal. Real life is waking up every morning and discovering that the race is still underway, and the road still stretches on to the horizon and out of sight. In real life, we have to figure out how to enjoy the journey, not just the finish line.
Often, even those things that appear to be finish lines turn out not to be; in fact, usually they are more like starting lines. When you are in high school, the goal is graduation day. When you get there, you discover that graduating from high school is actually the beginning of a new chapter that’s much longer and more difficult. (I saw something online this past graduation season that said, “Congratulations, graduates, on completing the easiest part of life!”). For a lot of people, like me, another false finish line is the goal of getting married. For so long all I wanted was to get married, and then when God provided me with my perfect partner, our wedding day was much more of a beginning than an end. It turns out being married is a lot harder than getting married. The same is true when we’re expecting a child. We spend a season looking forward to the birth of the baby as if that were the goal. Then, of course, we discover that there’s no time to celebrate, because a new race has begun, on a road that is steeper and longer and demands more from us than all of the running we’ve done up to that point.
This is not meant to paint a bleak picture. Thankfully, every leg of this race has its own beauty. There can be sweetness and joy in the teenage years, in young adulthood, in marriage and parenting, in the empty nest years, in retirement and the challenges of aging. I’m not saying life is nothing more than a grind, something to be simply endured. Life is beautiful. I’m just saying life is not a sprint, so we’d better figure out how to pace ourselves, and how to enjoy the journey.
This past Sunday, we celebrated the first worship service at Herlong Community Church. For a long time, the date of September 24th has been circled on our calendars as a sort of finish line, something to celebrate. Now that date has come and gone, and—guess what!—the real work begins. We’ve given birth to something, and it’s not time for a victory lap, it’s time to learn how to change diapers and get by on less sleep than ever before. There are new challenges and new opportunities. The race isn’t over, because until Christ returns the race is never over. It will be the same when Solid Rock Learning Center opens, and when the next goal is reached, and the one after that. If we live our lives thinking that when we reach the next milestone or accomplish the next task, the world is going to come to a halt, pat us on the back, throw us a parade, and offer us a paid vacation, we’re dreaming. There will be new mountains to climb. The road still stretches on.
Until, of course, it really does come to an end. My poster wasn’t exactly correct, because there is a finish line; it’s just farther down the road than we first thought. Jesus said “I am with you always, to the very end of the age.” We should take two things from this statement: 1), Jesus is always with us, and 2), this age will end. Our world will not go on this way forever. Somewhere out there on the horizon is judgment, and then eternity. In the meantime, Jesus says that He is with us, and Isaiah says that God is able to renew our strength, so that we do not grow weary. With His help, we can keep running, keep enjoying the journey, keep taking on the next challenge. So don’t forget to pace yourself, and appreciate the view. The race isn’t over yet.