Running the Race

By Rev. David Wilson Rogers |  October 26, 2013

            Military boot camp is not a lot of fun. The pressures and demands are seemingly impossible at times. No matter how hard one tries, the looming sense of eminent failure is always haunting the recruits as they run through their drills and exercises.
            It was over twenty-two years ago when I endured the seemingly endless grilling of the United States Coast Guard boot camp in Cape May, New Jersey. Of the many memories I have from those three months of intensive training is the required one and a half mile run.
            One and a half miles is a challenge for many people and going into boot camp I was not in the greatest physical condition. Yet, every day we would go out and practice by running the track, building up our endurance and pushing ourselves to improve on yesterday’s time.
            Amid the drilling, marching, running, and seemingly endless demands for more push-ups, I was also developing a slight pain in my shins. Wanting to “tough-it-out,” I ignored the clear indications of developing shin splints and kept up with the rigorous training schedule while ignoring the gradually increasing pain.
            When the day of the qualifying run was upon us, there were six of my buddies in the Company who all agreed we would run the race together. No matter what, we made a covenant to stick together for all but the final stretch of the run. Working together, we paced each other, and also challenged, encouraged, and motivated each other along the run. Truth is, we did not want to simply qualify. We wanted to make personal best scores and excel at the task and we knew our chances of success were greatly increased if we ran as a team.
            We had also planned to run the final stretch as a ‘best-man-wins’ race in a friendly competition to spur on a final motivation of competitive energy.  As planned, we pushed each other along the track until we reached the unofficial starting line for our final dash to the finish. With the finish line in sight, we gave the race all we had.
            As I ran, I could clearly feel the twinge in my legs gradually increase to a sharp burn and fierce pain. I was hurting. Yet the motivation of my friends and the desire to run the race with pride was sufficient to mentally ignore the pains and push harder.
            When I crossed the finish line, my time was an impressive 8 minutes and 12 seconds. That was the good news. Unfortunately, in the push, I also developed stress fractures in both legs. Ouch!
            Miraculously, however, the fractures did not last. Only 24 hours after X-rays clearly showed the cracks in my shin bones, a second round of X-rays and significantly reduced pain indicated something that the doctors could not explain. It seemed that all the prayer and laying on of hands in that day created a healing miracle.
            Paul uses the metaphor of running the race to encourage his friend Timothy to remain strong, even amid the pains and challenges of ministry in Jesus’ name. Paul understood the intrinsic value and extreme importance of using their shared friendship to motivate one of his own. Likewise, nearing end of his own life—a life lived with some mysterious “thorn” in his own side that inevitably caused Paul constant pain—Paul knew the value of pushing forward in faith. In the end, Paul received the miraculous healing of eternal life at the side of Jesus.
            Our life of faith is one that is often run with pain and challenges. Paul reminds us that when we run with those we love, stay true to the covenants of the church, hold fast to our life of prayer and faith, and trust in God’s miracles enough to keep pushing on, we will prevail!