Endurance, Running, and Hope

I hate to run. Running is hard on the body, but it’s also hard on the mind. There was a phase in high school when I gave running a chance. As an uncompetitive freshman, track seemed like the best fit. I knew I could at least put one foot in front of the other, so I decided to give it a try. Because I didn’t seem to have the build of a sprinter, I ended up in the long distance division.

The greatest perk of that track season, besides building some pretty decent calf muscles, was that my best friend joined the track team too. This made practices not just tolerable, but fun. While the rest of the track team ran ahead, we would intentionally fall behind and jog slow enough to carry on a conversation.

photo by Bruno Nascimento

If my friend happened to miss a practice or if the coach caught on to my game, I had to actually apply myself and work hard. At these times, I had to convince myself to keep moving even though I wanted to stop after every milestone. For every step, I battled the internal voice to quit, slow down, or rationalize my way out of the last mile. Then came the track meet. No longer was I trying to slow down and talk. There were too many people watching and too much at stake! Unlike practice, the race was a performance.

Because I had not pushed myself during practices, I did not have the competitive edge and stamina I needed to win the race. Without doing the practice necessary, I lacked the mental and physical endurance to perform well under pressure.

So it is in spiritual matters. In Philippians, the Apostle Paul likens the Christian journey to a race, and races require endurance. When I consider spiritual endurance, persecuted Christians in other countries come to mind, but endurance can also show up in other life circumstances.

For instance, endurance might look like the daily struggle of single parenting or surviving the slow, steady thrum of chronic pain. It might look like bearing up under a hard relationship or dutifully showing up at a job you despise so that you can pay the bills. Endurance comes in many forms.

Spiritual endurance is forged in uncomfortable or painful circumstances. Endurance means long-suffering. It means having grit. It means holding on and setting your face like flint to finish the job. Honestly, endurance sometimes means weakly holding on and praying for the strength to keep going.

I did gain some helpful tools during my time on the track team, one of which was a breathing technique. I learned to breathe in time with my feet hitting the pavement. In this way, the pace was set, and I found a rhythm I could sustain to the end of the race.

Romans 5

As Romans 5 (above) assures us, through endurance character is developed. The end result of building character is hope, and God promises that His hope will not disappoint or put us to shame. So, in whatever circumstance you find yourself enduring, pound the pavement, set the pace, breathe in and out, pray, and keep going, friends. His hope will not disappoint.

Pause: Breathe in and exhale slowly. Read and meditate on Romans 5:1-5. What do you take away from this passage?

Renew: Think about a circumstance in your life that the Lord has used or is using to build your endurance. Can you see character and hope forming through that circumstance?

Next: Pray this week for someone you know who is in a long-suffering situation. Consider writing them a note of encouragement or calling to check in with them.

May the Lord strengthen our faith and build our endurance muscles.

Pause, Renew, Next!

Learning to Wait

To wait: to remain stationary in readiness or expectation, to look forward, expectantly, to be ready and available

Psalm 130:5 NIV

Waiting is no fun, unless you know a good surprise is coming.  Even then it’s really difficult, isn’t it? Waiting for the small things in life is a nuisance:  for your favorite show to start, for the work day to be over, for the waiter to serve your food.  Waiting for the bigger things in life can be nerve wracking: planning for a wedding, finishing a college degree, or waiting nine months for a baby to be born. All of these times of waiting have one thing in common: the knowledge that something good is on its way.

How then does waiting change when we’re not guaranteed a reward or a happy ending?  This form of waiting requires hope and faith, and that is no easy task!

I have spent the last six years learning about waiting. due to our foster care and adoption journey as well as experiencing ongoing health issues.  I know of many people who could speak to the topic of waiting better than I.  Six years of discomfort is nothing compared to the 51 years that Joni Eareckson Tada has spent in a wheelchair.  Noah spent 100 years building an ark, believing in faith that the rain would come.  Then there was David, the Psalmist, who waited much of his life: first to be saved from his enemies and then to finally be crowned King.  The Psalms are full of verses about waiting.

Waiting is just tough all the way around. However, during the interim a lot is happening,  because while we wait life keeps moving.  At first our response to waiting is an attitude of expectation, but then we become frustrated as the answers do not come.  This frustration may soon dissolve into doubt. After all “hope deferred makes the heart sick.”  (Proverbs 13:12a)

There is a helplessness in the waiting, but in this helplessness we learn humility, the extent of our own ability, and our ever-needed dependency on the Lord.  We can feel His comfort in greater measures. What, then, besides comfort, are the benefits of having to wait on the hard things?

Patience.  Patience is a fruit of the spirit, but it is not an attribute that comes naturally.  It certainly takes refinement to produce this fruit.  After all, in our culture, we can have practically anything delivered to our doorsteps in two days or less (thank you, Amazon Prime).  Everything is instant. The problem is that immediacy does not grow character, and character is hard-won. Patience is defined as the capacity to accept or tolerate delay or suffering without getting angry.  It is in places of waiting that the Lord helps us learn the gift of patience.

Endurance.  Have you ever watched the track events at the Olympics?  The sprinting events are so exciting and powerful!  By contrast, the marathon is slow and methodical.  It takes more time – more sustained effort – to watch and to run. Even the athletes’ bodies look different. Sprinters are thick with muscle, full of power, while marathon runners are thin, with long, lean muscles. They have conditioned their bodies to sustain the long-distance effort.  Unfortunately, the Christian life is not a sprint full of power.  It is a long race full of endurance.  It’s in the seasons of waiting, where we seemingly can’t escape, that the Lord sharpens our resolve, teaching us how to pace ourselves and breathe.  He conditions us so that we can make it through the long race ahead.

Listening.  When we tire of crying out for help and beating the air in frustration, we get quiet enough to listen. What is God speaking in the waiting place?  His still, small voice is often quite active during the lulls in our lives.

Pause: Sit quietly and take a deep breath.  Contemplate one area of your life that you are currently waiting and pray about it.  Be attentive to what the Lord may be speaking to you.

Renew: Reflect on a time in your life when you had to wait.  What did you learn during that season?  How did it refine your character?

Next: Pray for someone in your life that you know is currently waiting.  Think of a way that you can offer them encouragement this week.

May we all learn patience, practice endurance, and attune our hearing during our seasons of waiting.

Pause, Renew, Next!