First light. I sit on the porch facing the street, salt glaze on my finger tips, the house silent behind me.
I peel back the skin of a banana, staring at the collection of water bottles at my feet. For a moment, I feel jealous of everyone inside, sheets laying lightly on their skin, sleep clinging. They will wake while I’m running and pour coffee into mugs. They will sit facing the lagoon, and while they blink away sleep, Riley will whisper, “Look…the painted bunting,” and lift her finger to point at the hourglass shaped bird feeder, the one built that way to thwart the squirrels, the one we all identify as “the space ship.”
For just a moment, I sit considering the quiet road, watching Spanish moss swaying gently, curling in the tree tops. The thick, humid morning rests on my shoulders like heavy hands. I am sore from yesterday’s cross training, training I needed, and I feel as though I am perched on the edge of a dream.
Why am I doing this, anyway?
For just an instant, the fleeting echo of inertia. Sometimes I wonder just this, in the last seconds before I push myself up and out, before I collect my courage and faith and press beyond doubt. For a breath, I forget why. I forget how much better I feel now. I forget that I can fly. I forget even the pleasant throb of muscles pushed and spent and cut stronger. For just those few seconds, I forget the thrill of looking back, that elation, the satisfaction in finishing. Sometimes, for just a moment, I feel so tired I’m not sure I can move.
And then, I breathe deep, remembering this, reciting it:
By the third mile, I remember how to fly. Sweat drips, and by then deep in conversation with God, I say to Him,
Thank you for letting me love the run. Thank you that I am able.
And usually by the time I hit mile six, I could care less about my sore muscles. Short of having goals and a training schedule and the knowledge that it’s not just the event but the whole picture—the recovery, the fuel, the run (every.single.one)—I could run well past my readiness and all the way to injury and foolishness. Honestly, I love the run. I love to run. But even though I know this, sometimes I sink in the last seconds before the start, and there it is, the luring deception, the doubt, the why am I doing this, anyway.
Behind every worthwhile effort, hides the ugly temptation to give up, to turn away. I have fought the beast in a thousand different arenas, through countless exhausted breaths. The ugly wondering lurks in the weary shadows of every difficult step, in the seconds, the days, the weeks before every victorious effort.
…Standing in front of Adam, while he stops his toothbrush with his teeth, blocks it with his tongue and the toothpaste flies from the side of his mouth. I stare weary at the white specks all over the wall, my hand wrapped over his, the toothbrush vibrating in his palm. I have been saying, “Round and round, round and round…Adam’s turn…brush outside, in the back.” I have been trying to move the toothbrush between his teeth and the side of his mouth, gently, back to the back teeth. I have been singing the words, saying them, chanting them. I have been showing him, over and over and over. Angry, anxious, afraid of bristles, he wails, working against me. And for a breath, before I press on, before I push past, I think, “Why am I doing this, anyway?” For an instant, I forget his progress. For just a moment, I forget the goal: his independence. For just a breath, I wonder if it’s possible that he will ever get it.
…A relationship bruises, and stuck, we feel the impossibility of moving past our differences. A friend sees one color where I see another, misreads something I thought clear, filters my inadequate expression of need through her insecurities. I feel misjudged, unimportant, or worse, as though I can offer her nothing, as though I am incapable of being a blessing in her life. For a moment, I feel it, the heavy, luring doubt, the thought that threatens persistence: Why am I doing this, anyway? For a breath, I forget our history. I forget all the things I should remember about love and blessing and grace. For a breath, I forget that God’s glory is everything. Impossibility holds me paralyzed, even though I hear the echo of a holy question: I am the LORD, the God of all mankind. Is anything too hard for me (Jeremiah 32:27)?
Isn’t it a daily thing, really, a moment by moment pressing on and past, this breathing through the weary doubt?
First light. I press through the crowd surrounding the Savior with need, seeking help for a child threatened by seizures. I reach for Him, pushing through to see, begging for His attention. And the thought is there, that sentient thief of all hope: Why am I doing this, anyway?
But before it can grasp me wholly, I am in front of Him, and He asks simply, “How long has it been this way?” He asks for my recognition—never His own—always because I need to look at the truth full-on.
“Always,” I say to Him, at once understanding both the context for the battle and the truth about the players in it—on the one side, my flickering doubt; on the other this insurmountable truth: One of you routs a thousand, because the LORD your God fights for you, just as he promised (Joshua 23:10).
“If you can do anything, take pity…help…,”It is a prayer I murmur often, always, and always I barely finish before His answer pushes me to my feet and out the door.
“‘If you can’? Everything is possible for him who believes.”
It is the only truth big enough to fight off inertia, the sinking paralysis of fear, the reality of my inadequacy. I breathe with the father standing in that crowd, I echo his heart, centuries past the details he knew.
I do believe; help me overcome my unbelief (Mark 9:24)!
I see now that those last few seconds, sitting in the new light before the run, are an essential part of my training. Better still, the wrestling with doubt and exhaustion, the pushing past my sore reluctance, are pure joy—yes, joy. Because beyond them I find faith cut stronger, and I learn to persevere, and with every trial I become less the wave tossed by the wind (James 1: 2-8) and more the runner wearing a victor’s medal at the finish (1 Timothy 4:7,8), or the warrior armored in God, the one still standing when the battle, at last, is forever finished (Ephesians 6:13).
And I remember, I know, and this the most important:
All the spoils, all the crowns, all the glory will fly, tossed from our hands at the last. And the wealth of victory will rest right there at His feet, where we fall face down in triumph (Revelation 4:9-11). His triumph.
And at the finish, I always know that all the training has been worth it.
I have told you these things, so that in me you may have peace. In this world you will have trouble. But take heart! I have overcome the world (John 16:33)