So last week I ran the 5k I posted about simulating with my running group. It went fine, considering the conditions: hot and crowded. Somehow every year thunderstorms threaten this race, and this year was no exception. Lightning cracked through the sky a few miles away while the runners milled around before lining up. You can't fight tradition.
I ran a better race than I expected, in no small part because I ran the course the day before. I knew where the hills were, when to conserve energy and just hang tough, and when to go all out. The benefit of knowing this particular course is knowing how long the pain of running uphill will last. Since running is partially a mental discipline, its a big advantage when you can tell yourself that the struggle is almost over, the hill levels out on the next block, or in a hundred yards, or whatever. The point is that there is comfort in knowing when we will reach the finish line and the physical trial will be over. O-Vah!
If only that was true in life, right? How many crises have you walked through without knowing when, or if, they would end? When would we wake up to a better, happier day? When would we wake up feeling physically or mentally better? When would we wake up not wanting to drink or use drugs or smoke or overeat? If we knew in advance the exact number of days in our struggle, we could appropriate our energy, resources, finances, etc., in such a way that they would last as long as we needed.
I remember the stabbing pain in my gut when my youngest child died. The thing I remember most clearly in those early days is wanting to put time - lots and lots of time - between me and Matthew's death because I knew that eventually the pain would fade; I wouldn't always feel that piercing pain. And I did eventually feel better, but it took a long time; much longer than I expected. And it was more difficult than I expected. Those first few months after Matthew died I cried, I drank, I took drugs...I did everything I could think of to numb that stabbing pain. And I was angry as heck with God. There were days when I thought I might spend the rest of my life feeling this desperate pain.
In Romans 8:18, Paul writes: "For I consider that the sufferings of this present time are not worthy to be compared with the glory which shall be revealed in us." One day I found this verse and I have, ever since, held on to it for dear life. Sometimes these present sufferings feel unbearable, whether its the emotional pain of losing a child, a marriage, or a job. With nothing more to rely on than my faith, I am comforted by this fact. I don't know how or when this glory will come and wash away the sufferings of this life, I just look forward to it. The thought sustains me.
One of the great comforts in running is that, happily, we know when the suffering will end. We can look at the course map for elevation to see how long and how steep are the uphills. There is a set distance, and we know it at the starting line. In my recent 5k, I passed the 2 mile mark at about 18 minutes, and, expecting it to take me a total of 27 minutes to complete the course, I could figure out that 1) I was more than half way finished, and, 2) I only had to run for about 9 more minutes, give or take a few seconds. And I've run enough races to know that pretty much as soon as I stop running, I'm fine. Within a few minutes my breathing slows down, the sweat stops, and I'm back to normal.
But imagine signing up, and showing up, for a race and having no idea of the distance? Could be a 5k, could be a marathon, we don't know. We're just told to show up with our running shoes. That's pretty much what God has asked us to do, to trust Him that we will be able to run the distance, finish the race, and that when it's over, the finisher's medal will be...wow! Beyond anything we can imagine!
When the race gets tough, its a great to know that one way or another it will eventually be over. In life, we have to trust that our suffering will eventually end. Yes, believe me I know, this can be incredibly challenging. But there's no alternative, is there?. We must believe that God has something planned for us that will make our suffering here on earth seem not quite trivial, but certainly inconsequential given what He has in store for us. If we don't believe this, well, what's the point?
We don't know why suffering happens in this lifetime, but it certainly does. Why not take comfort where it is offered, in the knowledge that it will end, and when it does, we will wear the glory!