The other day I was hiking. Up a steep, dirt and rock strewn path I walked, panting but smiling. I have to admit, I love the feeling of endurance activities. The burning ache in the chest, the being out of breath, the hovering on the edge of muscle failure and then the pushing beyond, beyond what my body thinks I could or should do. That’s why, when someone else might walk back down the trail, I ran. To walk would’ve been too easy. My body would have started to cool down, my heartbeat slowing instead of staying in the hurried rhythm that the one and a half mile incline had established, and I wasn’t ready for that yet.
So I leaned back, planted one foot firmly in front of the other and headed downhill, fast. Everything looked different than it had on the way up. Blurrier. All of a sudden there was a breeze in my face and there seemed to be more rocks and roots on the trail. More turns and fewer chances to look around at the scenery. Moving without tripping and careening downhill became the #1 priority and it was a priority I took seriously. The muscles in my legs twitched with each step I carefully placed so that I didn’t roll an ankle (I have done that before and did not want a repeat performance). I was concentrated and focused on the trail just before me, not too far out. There was no time for doubting or second guessing each step. I remember thinking that I shouldn’t look more than 1 step ahead or I would fall on the step I was presently taking. Then, boom, I thought about how similar this was to my life. There are moments when everything is moving slowly. I can look far ahead, I can easily turn my head and look back, I can even gaze over my shoulder at the scenery that I am passing without worrying too much about each and every step I am taking. I am thinking more of the entire path rather than the next footfall, but then sometimes life begins to speed up. Each pebble in the path becomes a large boulder. What seemed like a gradual incline becomes a steep descent. The horizon is no longer an acceptable gazing point and instead I am forced to change my focus to the limited view of what is just in front of me.
I would like to say that I am just as happy each time my life mimics my trail run but I am not, and I think I have discovered why. When I run, I enjoy the moments that make most people never put on a pair of running shorts again, because I know that I can do it. I have run far. I have run uphill and downhill, in rain or in the blazing heat of the day. I have run when I am sick and at my best health. I have rolled my ankle and been hit by a car (It may be better to say, “I have been bumped by a car”…wasn’t badly hurt, just shaken up mostly so don’t imagine some crazy movie scene here), both times I ran a couple of miles home a bit in shock before I noticed bruising. I have run short and long races. I ran through the first 7 months of my pregnancy and then while pushing a 40 pound kid in a 40 pound stroller…once again, uphill, downhill, in the rain…
I think you get the idea. I am a runner. My body knows, without having to do much thinking, how to run and do it efficiently. It knows when I can daydream and when I have to focus, but bigger and more important than that my brain knows. My brain knows that even though my muscles may be saying, “Enough!” and my lungs may be saying, “Quit! Slow down! You can’t do this!” my brain knows that I can. My brain knows the work that I have put into running the days and weeks before. My brain remembers that I am strong enough, that I am equipped.
My brain REMEMBERS that I can.
It is because of this that I smile when a run is hard or the terrain changes and becomes daunting, even if all I can see is the pinpoint of the trail in front of me. I grin because it is so amazing knowing that I can do it. I will make it and I will grow stronger, more confident and more experienced because of it. I will look back, happy, that I pushed through.
Have I put as much work into my spiritual life? Do I have the days and weeks, years of strengthening and confidence building that would lead to smiling during trials? What a weird thing. Perhaps this is what James, the half brother of Jesus, what talking about when he said
"Count it all joy, my brothers, when you meet trials of various kinds, for you know that the testing of your faith produces steadfastness. And let steadfastness have its full effect, that you may be perfect and complete, lacking in nothing....Blessed is the man who remains steadfast under trial..."
I am going to look back and REMEMBER the moments where I have spiritually encountered challenges and trials. Then I am going to REMEMBER how I persevered through those trials even though they sometimes seemed to be too much for me, like they would conquer me, leaving me permanently broken and bruised. I will REMEMBER that even when those moments seemed too much, moving too fast and I didn't know how long they would last or if I could make it to the end that my heart knew I could...
I have the same God who David did. The same God to whom David sang,
"From the end of the earth will I cry to You, when my heart is overwhelmed and fainting; lead me to the rock that is higher than I [yes, a rock that is too high for me]."
Oh Lord let me remain steadfast when I am careening downhill.