Saturday morning, way-too-early AM, circa 2002. Papa would be on his way upstairs to roll Mikaela and I out of bed. Grabbing a swig of water, we would stretch up and down and sideways together in the early morning dew, then trot down the driveway side by side, swinging our arms and chatting giddily. Soon our tennis shoe-clad feet would hit the pavement, my breath would suddenly catch, and the air would eddy around me as my ponytail went flying. Mikaela and I would run a little over a mile in the beginning—to the culvert—gasping and cherry-faced, while Papa’s long legs would take him past us at some point and on to the end of the road—the stop sign.
Eventually, on his way back, he would catch up with us and amuse us all by listing off the foods he was dreaming of at the moment: “A big, juicy steak. Or how about warm, melty chocolate chip cookies!” Mikaela and I would protest at this exhilarating over food right at the climax of our run, but Papa would jovially persist.
I clearly remember pondering Papa’s running four miles to Mikaela and my one or two, and dreaming of some hazy day when I would be an adult and would come back with my family for Christmas and go for a run with Papa. Then—then—my tall, beautiful adult self would be able to run to the stop sign with him. I’ve smiled at that memory since then, and have thought about it often when I have been running these last few weeks—I’m almost back to that red stop sign again after a spell of laziness!
But I have also been thinking about that stop sign in terms of my spiritual run. At the beginning of my spiritual run, I prayed for God to show me the next thing He wanted me to run to, and I remember Him telling me, “Truthfulness.” At that time, I had several sins of dishonesty on my conscience that I needed to make right, and a cold shiver passed through me when God told me that. I protested in my heart, “Yes, I know, God, and I’ll get on that soon, but it’s going to take some time. So while I’m working on that, what do want me to also be doing?” But this disobedience would be met with silence, and I would realize that if I didn’t run in obedience to this first mile marker of truthfulness, I would not be running in the race at all. I would be standing still while everyone streamed around me, the sideliners cheering on everybody but me. And so, slowly, I learned the lesson of victory in truthfulness.
I have had other mile markers since then. There was the mile of love that I ran, the mile of submission, and the mile of dying to self. Each one I have struggled through, but reached still running towards that stop sign.
This whole year, however, I’ve been stuck at the same mile marker, windmilling my arms and legs, trying to run forward to the next mile marker, but not getting anywhere. When I asked God what He wanted me to run to this time, He replied, “Give me your whole affections.” “Okay, Lord, they are Yours!” “Then that means not setting your heart on worldly possessions, worldly entertainment, worldly thoughts. That means whatever delights you the most is your god, and only I should hold that place.” To be honest, I would give most of my affections to God, but still rationalize a few worldly strongholds. In truth, I am thick-skulled.
Through the year, though, God has been stripping my affections down (why do you think He wanted me to read the book of Hosea this year? J ) And finally, at long last, I learned again the lesson I had learned when I was working on truthfulness—I need to follow God’s steps in God’s order, or I am a cheater in the race. Proverbs 16:9 says,
“A man's heart plans his way, But the LORD directs his steps.”
If I had succeeded in skipping that mile of truthfulness or the mile of submission or this mile or this mile of whittling affections, then I would be like that person who runs the first mile of the marathon, steals a ride in an air conditioned car to the 25th mile, and finishes with fist pumps galore. He received no benefit from the race other than earthly accolades, and his run was pointless. So would my run be pointless. I would have skipped the lessons of truthfulness and submisison and loving God alone, and when I reached the stop sign of death, in the eternal life beyond I would find that I had wasted far too much time receiving only earthly rewards and no gold medal would be waiting.
So as I type this I am running, my eye on the next mile marker, my muscles kindling energy and bulging with the action. Inexplicably, that crimson stop sign which marks the line of eternal life is still just as far away as it seemed when I was ten, but remains just as tantalizing as ever. I am running with a spring in my step now, but I know the time will come again when my breath heaves in jagged gasps and I cry, “I can’t do it, Lord! I can’t!” But when that time comes I will look up from the asphalt, sight the mile marker with my eyes and gaze in the distance at the cherry stop sign afar off, and I will keep running.
“Therefore we also, since we are surrounded by so great a cloud of witnesses, let us lay aside every weight, and the sin which so easily ensnares us, and let us run with endurance the race that is set before us, looking unto Jesus, the author and finisher of our faith.” -Hebrews 12:1,2a
Scripture taken from the New King James Version. Copyright © 1982 by Thomas Nelson, Inc. Used by permission. All rights reserved.