I watched a marathon once. My niece Monique was running. We set up our cheering section at Mile 23. We clapped and cheered for everyone who went by: “Go, number 1347!” “Woot Woot, Team U-Haul!” “You rock, Blue Shorts!” and so on, but when we saw Monique, we went bananas! She was going to make it!
Marathoning is exhausting. You run uphill. You run downhill. Sometimes you get injured. People pass you. People pass out. Some people have long, lean legs, 5% body fat, and endless, boundless energy. Maybe you’re not like them. Maybe you’re a plodder—you’re going to finish, but it isn’t going to be pretty. You might have to walk across the finish line. You might have to crawl.
Or maybe you can’t finish. No matter how hard you’ve trained, if you come down wrong on your ankle in your tenth mile and you hear it pop, you’re done. Maybe it pours rain that day, you slip in a puddle and break your leg. Maybe you got no sleep the night before, or you got bad news and you simply can’t concentrate. Maybe you cramp up or go numb. Maybe when it comes down to putting one foot in front of the other, you simply cannot do it. Maybe, around Mile 20, you run smack into The Wall, your legs are on fire, your will to finish has evaporated, and you are absolutely convinced you will not make it. Maybe you don’t.
I was thinking about this today because I’m at Mile 8.25, and my energy which was popping all over the place 8 miles ago, has dwindled into the one-foot-in-front-of-the-other stage. I have to keep this up for 17.95 more miles, or, to be exact, 31 more months.
I’m in Law School. In California, students attending correspondence schools have to log 864 hours each year for four years. I did the math, and you can trust me when I tell you, each hour works out to about 40 feet. It takes a lot of 40-foot increments to make 26.2 miles, but I’m slugging away at it, day by day, step by step. Some days I love the work. Some days I can’t stand it. Many days I want to quit. What keeps me going is what keeps any Marathoner going—there’s a finish line. The banner over mine reads: Juris Doctor. Call me nuts, but I have to do this. I was made to do this. This is who I am. But that doesn’t mean it doesn’t hurt sometimes.
In another marathon I’m doing simultaneously, I’m at Mile 18. The Finish Line isn’t in sight; in fact, it’s twelve years away. The name of this marathon: Parenting. Our eldest was 18 when our youngest arrived. That’s 36 years of parenting when Brian and I break the tape and cross that line. The first 11 years were a nice, steady, easy downhill. After that, things got a bit more hilly. The last “mile” or two have been almost straight uphill. Last year, I spent a great part of this particular marathon dragging myself along, crawling, crying. It wasn’t a pretty sight. If you’d been watching from your cozy spot on the sidewalk, you would have thought, “This lady has no business in this race.” But I do. I was made to do this. This is who I am. But that doesn’t mean it doesn’t hurt sometimes.
So, what’s your Marathon?
Is it your marriage? If you’re looking at 50 years of this, in marathon measurement, every year is 0.524 miles. If the marriage is difficult, this could seem crazy daunting, even impossible. If you’re hitting The Wall or running straight uphill, you might be thinking there’s no way you can finish. You might want to walk right off the road and into the arms of any stranger you see. Strangers can be so nice, they don’t criticize how you’re running, they cheer for you, and they’re way prettier than that sweaty, weary person running next to you.
Is it your job? The mere fact that you have to get up in the morning to go to work might depress you, and thinking there are 20 “miles” to go in the 40-year career you envision might be overwhelming.
I know a homeschooling mother who told me that she wakes up every morning and bursts into tears. She has six children, from kindergarten through high school. She was called to be a homeschooler, but that doesn’t mean it doesn’t hurt sometimes. Sometimes it hurts a lot.
In a marathon, people line the sidewalks and cheer. There are water stations and snack stations. People hand you power bars. People hand you Gatorade. Sometimes strangers hold you up.
Look around. Do you see someone who is in the third mile of a 26.2 that goes straight up? That meanders through the desert? That slogs through water, over stones, under thundershowers? Could you maybe pass a power bar? Give a drink of water? Lend a hand? Lend a shoulder? This person needs you cheering, “You can do it!”
Look around. Do you see someone who is simply not going to make it? Do you see a teenager who simply will not finish high school? Do you see a man who cannot salvage his marriage? Do you see someone who is sick, depressed, fallen, lost? Maybe the time for “You can do it!” is over and it’s time to be that person who helps a wounded runner off the course and into the medic’s tent: “You did the best you could. Come on over here and lie down. Let me get you some help.”
Look around. Do you see someone standing at the starting line of a race he or she simply should not attempt? Is it your place to stop the race from starting? Probably not, so have the sweetness to cheer your head off once the running starts. When the race itself overwhelms your runner and he calls to say, “Can I quit now?” you’ll need to be wise in your answer. Some races aren’t meant to be quit half-way. Some are. You have to exercise wisdom.
Monique finished her marathon, but her husband had to carry her into the house, and she slept the rest of the day. So why do we think we can run marathon after marathon—some of them simultaneously—without a little cheering, without a little carrying, without a little rest? Without stopping to take stones out of our shoes? Evaluate the races you are running. Where are you? Do you need a power bar? Do you need new shoes? Or is it time to change races, walk off the course, stop running?
I’ve avoided making spiritual connections because the races are different and not every race should be finished. At least I hope you will stop boo-ing other runners. Very likely, they are running as fast as they can.