Until last week, I had not participated in a road race in several years. Aside from a busy life, multiple injuries have plagued me and made running more of an exercise in futility than an actual exercise of the body. But last Thursday, it didn’t matter. I had to be there. I wanted to be there. I needed to be there. Even if I had to crawl across the finish line.
I started running in college, mostly to get into shape and lose the “freshman forty” I had packed on. I had some good friends who were runners, so positive peer pressure played a role. They were crazy-fast and trained in the spring for the Kentucky Derby Festival half-marathon. For non-runners, a half-marathon is 13.1 miles. It seemed like a ridiculous idea, so naturally, I was game. After that first half-marathon, I was hooked–the crowds, the music, the adrenaline! It was magical.
The next step was to run a full marathon. My great friend, Sarah, discovered the Leukemia and Lymphoma Society of America (LLSA) Team in Training group, which would train us to run a marathon in exchange for fundraising. I look back at this coincidence fondly and with a mental LOL at God’s sense of humor. Did my fundraising dollars provide research for treatment that would later benefit my own husband? Who knows, but it’s a cool thought.
Over the years, I ran to combat anxiety and depression, to experience God in the silence, to stay fit, to support a number of good causes, and to be part of a community. During the past ten years, however, I’ve hardly run at all due to both new injuries and recurrent old ones. The latest injury was a torn meniscus, which required surgery. As a result, I experienced quadriceps atrophy and a lot of stiffness in my knee joint. I know, first world problems. Keep your eye-rolling to yourself, please.
I now run with a limp. You may not notice it, but I sure do. Once I’m warmed up (which now takes about thirty minutes), it’s less noticeable. I’m also slower than I once was, and I can’t run as far (yet), but I still try to run. Some would call it persistence. I call it stubbornness.
Last week, I ran the Peyton Rader Memorial Color Run, a two-mile road race in my hometown. I have known Peyton’s parents and grandparents most of my life. As I watched this precious family greet people, pray before and after the race, run, walk, and stand firm in their faith despite their battered hearts and shattered lives, it struck me how God uses our pain, our injuries, our “limps,” for good. Not the kind of good we may desire, but the kind of good that only He can create…beauty out of ashes.
Here are some things that have stuck with me:
- Emotional pain may cause us to limp through life, but it can also renew our sense of purpose and increase our persistence. Pain can be the catalyst that drives us to do more and propels us to be better. This is not something we do on our own, but in our weakness, God’s power is perfect (2 Corinthians 12:9). He shines through us when we are broken enough to acknowledge our utter dependence upon Him.
- Pain speaks loudly. In fact, it practically yells. Levi Lusko says, “Pain is a microphone. And the more it hurts, the louder you get,” (107). I thought of this as I listened to the fervent prayers of a hurting father the other night. He was physically holding a microphone, but what he said spoke more loudly than simple amplification. His words spoken in faith were loud enough to drown out the roaring of an enemy who sought to devour his family.
- Pain raises our awareness of what is truly important. Where we might have become complacent, pain jolts us into reality and reminds us to take the eternal perspective. Instead of just seeing the temporal situation in front of us, God allows us to see into the “unseen, [which] is eternal” (2 Corinthians 4:18).
Here was a family “limping” through the most painful experience most of us can imagine, yet they were running so hard toward Jesus that no one noticed a limp! What we noticed was grace in spite of suffering, gratefulness to their community, and a sense of purpose in the midst of pain.
This is not our true home. We are runners, ever limping toward a different kind of finish line. When we cross over into that perfect reality, Jesus will heal every limp. Our hearts will beat in sync with a song that says, “I have fought the good fight. I have finished the race. I have kept the faith.” (2 Timothy 4:7).
You will be hurt in this life. It is certain, and it is real. I, of all people, will never undermine the suffering of loss. It is real, and it is deep. You will have scars and limps, and some of those hurts will not heal in this lifetime. Will you allow those injuries to keep you on the couch? Or will you get out and run, limp and all, toward the life God empowers you to live?
New Women’s Devotional Bible. New International Version. Zondervan (2006).
Lusko, L. Through the Eyes of a Lion. W Publishing Group. (2015).