On Sunday I ran a half marathon. When I approached the finish line I heard some familiar voices. One deep and the other soft. The deep one belonged to a tall, dark, handsome stud called Husband. The soft one is two years old and she was excited to be at the finish line. Although cold, she had her little fists in the air cheering for her mama. Later in the day, we talked about what it was that she was the most thankful for that day.
Thoughtfully she said, “I’m thankful foooor… the finish line!” Her sweet little voice back dropped with a round, contemplative face had spoken. And her words penetrated my soul.
The truth in her statement, of course, made me smile. Without knowing it, my little one had spoken profound words.
Yes, sweet girl; I, too, am thankful for the finish line.
But the more I pondered her gratitude, the more I realized that, while true, it had a giant gaping hole in it. No, I don’t expect a toddler to understand the big, big world and the meaning it all holds; but I, as a grownup (although a reluctant one sometimes) know that there is more to be thankful for than just the finish line.
I want to be thankful for the miles before.
It’s the long, hard, sometimes painful miles that count. You can’t cross any finish line without the miles that lead to it.
There are lots of finish lines in our life, but there are many, many more miles. If we learn to be grateful for the miles, we will learn contentment, love, joy, peace, patience, kindness, goodness, faithfulness, gentleness, and self-control.
“The fruit of the Spirit is love, joy, peace, patience, kindness, generosity, faithfulness, gentleness, and self-control. There is no law against such things.”
As Ann Voskamp so eloquently puts it in her book One Thousand Gifts, it all starts with thanksgiving!
If we don’t learn to be grateful for the miles then we are no better than the Israelites in the desert. They wandered, for forty, dusty years. For many, many miles they became increasingly anxious for the finish line. They neglected gratitude for fear and eventually idolatry. Every morning God provided manna for food and, at first, they ate in astonishment (and confusion). Awe consumed every bite of this heavenly bread.
Then, one morning, at some point among the many miles, a seed of ingratitude was planted. They were getting what they needed but they wanted more. The heavenly bread was now just stale toast. It crunched in their teeth and dried out their throats and their hearts.
They argued with Moses and God.
Is this it? We're just scraping by. We want more! We want comfort and lazy days without worry! We want big screen TVs and wide open lawns surrounded by white picket fences!
Although they were provided with just enough for the day, they wanted more. They wanted security. Better yet, they wanted a SENSE of security given by things of this world – the tangible, touchy, feely things. They didn't like the bare, open, nakedness of the desert mileage.
The miles were feeling too long and too hard and they didn’t trust any more. They didn’t trust the God who had rescued them from Egypt with plagues and disease. They no longer trusted the God who had parted the seas and sent light before them to guide their steps.
Now they wanted more. They wanted stocked pantries, extra shoes, and worry free nights. They were tired of the dust on their feet and the sun in their hair. They were anxious for the finish line so much that they were ready to just walk off the course, pack it in, and head to Dunkin Donuts.
And, to top it all off, Moses disappeared into the mountain with God and they began to doubt that he was ever coming back. They thought, surely God and Moses had abandoned them. So, they turned instead to something THEY could do. Something THEY could touch. Something THEY could justify for their good. They built a shiny, glinting, towering idol.
And they broke God’s heart.
Sarah, Abraham’s wife, too, became tired of the miles. She was promised a finish line: a son. But after many years she couldn’t see it. She couldn’t touch it. Her ears were not, yet, tickled with the joyous sounds of her boy’s laughter. So, she turned to something SHE could control. And the rest, as they say, is history.
The miles that lead to the finish line are hard. But never underestimate the ability of our God to use the tough things, the long miles, to congeal the loose bits together. Like a cake set to bake in the intense heat of an oven or curly strings of cheese melting over a fire. If it wasn’t for the heat, for the time spent in the tough stuff, these things wouldn’t come together. We want to glorify the arrival of the plate piled high with warm cake, but we diminish the heat that made it all happen.
When you run long miles, you don’t strap a full refrigerator to your waist and drag it behind you. You bring just what you need to get you to the finish line. There is a sense of abandonment, a sense of, "this is it."
It's raw. It's just you and the shoes and the pavement and the sun and the air and a few brave stragglers around you.
And it's here that you carry with you a realization that these miles are the most important part of the journey. And when you see the finish line in your sights, finally, and you hear the crowds cheering, the long miles suddenly seem far away.
It was worth it.
And, if we are lucky enough, we can rest at the finish line for a time and soak up the benefits of the long miles that are now complete. But, as I said before, there will be more finish lines. And, it seems, as soon as one race is complete, another one is just getting started. So, with another finish line, comes more miles.
The good news is, God makes the best running partner.
You never run this race alone, even though there are times that it may feel very lonely.
He will never leave you and He will never forsake you.
It is my prayer that this post makes you think, opens up an avenue for the Lord to speak to you, and leads you to scripture. What verses do you hold on to when the miles get long?
Scripture for reference and reflection.
1/26/2016 03:09:08 pm
Your thoughts penetrate deep and resound with my long-distance heart. Not only do you make me want to dig in deeper with Christ, but you are giving me the itch to sign up for the race I've been avoiding. Excellent perspective. I'm so glad you blog.
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