At the beginning of my freshman year of high school, I was somehow persuaded to sign up for cross country. The team was known for being tight-knit and fun-loving, and though I had never been much of an athlete, I figured, “It’s just running. How hard can it be?”
I soon found out that it was not only hard but painfully hard. I enjoyed the thrill of a short sprint, but when the distance stretched into miles, running began to feel like torture. My lack of motivation to win or even improve my speed didn’t help. Even hearing my teammates, coaches, and loved ones rooting me on from the sidelines did little to spur me on during the races. Their enthusiasm and energy was such a contrast to my fatigue, and I often wanted to respond to their cheers with, “But I’m so tired!” So it may not surprise you to hear that my first season of cross country was also my last.
I did, however, learn some things about endurance during my short stint as a long-distance runner. I learned the importance of finding creative ways to keep moving when you can barely pick your feet up off the ground. I learned the necessity of focusing your attention on the next short stretch or even the next step, instead of the miles that remain. And most importantly, I learned that running with others is key when you need to keep going. There is something about having someone else with you that pulls you along, despite the discomfort.
I’ve reflected a great deal on the nature of endurance in the latter half of my life. Fatigue began to set in when I was in seminary. School, work, relationships, and other responsibilities felt like a long and unending race. I figured this was only temporary and that my adult life would consist of structure and stability that would allow me to catch my breath and sustainably address the needs of life as they came. After crossing the finish line of grad school, however, I found that the race just stretched out longer: chronic illnesses, having children who were always in need, job transitions and demands, relationship struggles, losses that brought unending heartaches, and a pandemic to boot. Needless to say, I am tired, both in body and soul.
In this position, it can be hard to hear what feel like trite cheers from well-meaning acquaintances and loved ones: “Keep going!…It will get better….The days are long but the years are short….” and so on. Even Scripture can feel this way at times, like the words of Isaiah 40:30–31: “they who wait for the Lord shall renew their strength…they shall run and not be weary; they shall walk and not faint.” I hear these words and assume they must be talking about someone else.
Thankfully, my tepid response to these “encouragements” has been bolstered by a louder, sweeter message I hear directly from Jesus:
- He welcomes and deals compassionately and tenderly with me when I am tired (Matt 11:28–30). He knows that the expectations I have for myself might be too high or too heavy. He invites me to slow my pace and find small, steady ways of moving forward in faith, even when my efforts seem insignificant or pitiable to the world around me (Luke 10:38–42). Even on my most exhausting days, I can come to him confidently expecting to receive comfort and relief instead of encountering more disappointment or demands.
- He knows I am limited, so he encourages me to focus primarily on my next few steps, because anticipating how I will make it to the end is just too much for me. Even as my body, resources, and relationships decline or disappear, he is always building in me a hope of glory that outlasts every loss, even my own death (Matt 6:25–34). He will always enable me to do the things he requires of me, and I will therefore never run out of either the energy or faith needed to fulfill his purposes.
- When I am afraid that he is standing far off or merely shouting encouragement from the sidelines, I remember that his own participation in this race makes him intimately acquainted with my fatigue. His completion of this race not only guarantees that my pain will result in unimaginable gain, but it also means I will never run alone. Jesus is my ever-present partner, always running alongside me and my teammates. His cloud of saints always surrounds me (Heb 12). My union with Christ infuses everything I do with the purpose and presence of the King and his kingdom.
I imagine today you may be feeling tired too, and like me, you long for the weariness to depart. Though it will likely stick with us for the remainder of this race we call life, our Jesus will always stick closer and will never leave us behind. Take this moment to close your eyes and imagine him there next to you, whispering in your ear, “For the joy set before us, let’s finish this together.”