Obedience to Jesus is a daily thing. It’s unpredictable, and it’s fluid. It can change and morph because people change and morph. Because He chooses to use people FOR people, and that is a complex and fluid thing. We can’t say we’ll love on our neighbors but only for this amount of time and in only in ways that are possible with my schedule and the limited time I have. It doesn’t work that way. We are either in or we’re out. We either obey, or we don’t. We don’t get to pick and choose. It’s the whole package, it’s what we signed up for when we said yes to Jesus and to following Him.
It might be like signing up for a half marathon. This example comes to mind since I’ve been running a lot more these days. (I think I’m trying to run all the stress and anxiety right out of my body!) Two years ago I signed up for one.You sign up thinking it will be fun and great motivator to get in shape. Because some of your friends have fed you that lie, you know, your runner friends. But you do enjoy the first few weeks of training, smiling to yourself as you go on your one mile runs, every other day, thinking this half marathon stuff isn’t so bad. And then you have your first real run. You know, the longest distance you’ve ever ran in your entire life. Which has been like 4 miles up until this point. Running seven miles feels like you are dying. You start to get chaffing in areas you didn’t know could chafe. Your feet feel funny, your knee hurts. Your hips are aching, why are they aching? What is going on? You have run out of good music, because who knew, when you run for 7 miles, that’s like running for a loooooooong time. If you are super slow, like me, it is about an hour and a half. And this goes on for months. Apparently some people can just show up and run 13.2 miles, but the rest of us normal, non-runner type people, we have to train months and months to be able to run that far, and that long. And then race day comes. It finally comes, which is terrifying and exciting at the same time. You haven’t actually ran 13 miles yet, you’ve only made it to 10. But the trainers, the people who know what they are doing, say that isn’t necessary. They believe all that training will carry you through, and the race day adrenaline will push you right through those 3 miles you’ve never run before.
Two years ago for me, race day came. I didn’t sleep very well the night before, not just because I was anxious about the big race, but also because I was in a hotel with my husband and 2 small children, who of course woke up every two hours confused where they were and wanting to snuggle with mommy. I took the bus to the start of the race. There was something sort of magical in the air, this strange feeling of comrodery as everyone else was getting ready to run. Some people were excited and chatty (those annoying morning people), some were quiet and pensive and others looked like me, slightly nauseous and unsure what to think of all this. Thankfully, thank the Lord Almighty, I was with a friend. Three of us from Houston signed up together, and ran a few times together over the course of our training. This morning, we decided to start together and stick together as long as we wanted/were able. I had never enjoyed running with anyone up until this point. It always felt strained and awkward, what if I am faster than her? More plausible, what if she is faster than me and I am slowing her down? And for goodness sakes, what about the talking. It gives me such anxiety. I can’t talk when I run. I can hardly breath. So then we’re just supposed to run by each other silently? With headphones in, without? I don’t know what to do! But race day feels different, all bets are off, and we are all there just to finish. To run it, do our best, and try not to fall on our face.
So we start out together. The first mile goes by fast, as we navigate through the crowd. We can’t run very fast, the herd is too thick. I smile as we pass the Alamo, that’s right, the Alamo. My first half marathon is running through San Antonio, past a historic site I’ve always wanted to visit and just never have. I grab my phone, try to take a photo, and laugh at how fun this is. What was I so afraid of?
Cue mile 7. It’ s a hill. I tell my friend, through my gasps, to just go on ahead, I have to walk this baby. Houston, where we lived at the time and where I trained, has zero hills. Not even a gentle incline anywhere. Thankfully, she too wants to walk, having also trained in the land of no hills. We reach mile 9. I’m done. I hate my life. With every single step I cannot stop thinking how much I hate my life. Why did I sign up for this? Why did I pay money to do this?! I tell her go. I have to walk. I’m done. She begs me to continue, pleads at me with some words, and mostly her eyes. I cant. I stop. She gets ahead of me, one step at a time as I walk with my hands on my hips. And then, right before she disappears from my site, I think “oh my gosh, If I don’t stay with her, I will walk the rest of the way. I won’t make it alone.” And with all my remaining energy I run towards her. Fast, quick, with numb legs. I am yelling but she can’t hear me. I look insane I’m well aware. I catch up to her, gasping for air. When I touch her arm she jumps, for she is back in the zone with her headphones on. She laughs and hugs me. And we slow down a bit so I can catch my breath. I’m so thankful for her. The next mile I see my family. We turn the corner and there they are. My husband is frantically waving so I don’t miss them. The kids are strapped into the double jogger with a sign that says, “Hurry home mama, we need a snack” I laugh out loud, and run to them and hug them. There are tears in my eyes! What in the world? Why am I crying? They are encouragement just when I needed it, oh how it does my soul so good to see them. The next two miles feel tortuous. I have to tell myself, again and again, you can do this. You birthed a child. You are amazing. You pushed a human being out of you, this is nothing. Man, we women are amazing huh?! Anyway, it worked. That thought carried me to the end, where I stumbled over the finish line. I grabbed my free juice, water, oranges, and high fives from strangers. I was laughing, wincing, the feeling of relief and accomplishment sweeping over me in waves.
Wow, that took a really long time to get to my point. My point is this, obeying God can be like a non runner trying to run a half marathon. We sign up to run the race, to obey God, and somehow we’ve disillusioned ourselves into believing it won’t be hard. Or we won’t have aches, pains, problems, times we question our sanity. That somehow we can run the race, heck even finish it, without training. Practicing. Failing. Trying again and again. Not to mention, we run it better when we are running it with others. Something I honestly, 100% didn’t see coming. I never like running with anyone until that day. Without Stephanie by my side, I most certainly wouldn’t have ran the whole thing. I might have finished, much later and having walked a large majority of it. But I did better, my best, with someone by my side.
We need to train. We need to practice listening to our coach, trusting the training schedule. Putting our trust in the one who has run a race before, and knows from experience what we need. If we desire to obey God, then we have to practice it. We have to push through the awkward. We need to strengthen our obedience muscles, the ones that will obey when everything else inside of us or around us screams we are done. The muscles are what keep us going, the parts of us we have trained to say “I don’t care how you feel, this is what we signed up for.” Keep going, just until that next tree. Just until that light. Around the next corner. Because, until I actually ran a hard race, I didn’t know how hard running can be. But I also didn’t know how amazing it was either. I didn’t know my body could be pushed like that, I didn’t know what I was capable of. And somewhere, in the midst of the pain and the aches and the pavement and the sky, and the sound of my own heart beating, I fell in love. I fell in love with running. It made me better, made me work hard, made me do something I honestly thought I could not do. Because sometimes the really tough things are the most beautiful things. And if I would have quit that race, I never would have experienced that. And I can’t help but think, the same goes for the race we are running with Jesus. If we just want the finish line, the glory and accomplishment at the end, but don’t want to run through the blisters, sore muscles, and awkward parts, then we miss it. We don’t get to see, feel, breathe, ache, enjoy, struggle as we run the race if we quit when it gets hard. And, obeying Jesus is hard. But just like running, if we can push through the hard things in life and obey Him through the little and big ways, then we might just come out on the other side. And when that happens, I’m convinced we’ll come out even more in love with Him.