Running outside in January is, for me, a treat. I live in the Midwest where it is often too cold, too icy, too snowy, or too dark when I have time to run. Around late October I switch to the gym. On Saturday morning, however, the weather surprised us all in northeastern Indiana with mid-50s and sun. I slipped on my running shoes and followed my typical 5K-route with a song in my heart.
I have not always been a runner. I started about two and half years ago. After a hiking trip with my brother in the mountains of Glacier National Park in which we covered about twenty-four miles in two days, including a knee-punishing downhill stretch through switchbacks and burnt-up pines, I decided that I could probably run a 5K. I transferred my allegiance from the club whose card-carrying members believe all runners are slightly insane to the couch-to-5K program. Last September, I ran my first half-marathon at a slow but steady pace.
When I first started running, I often pondered the words of Hebrews 12:
Therefore, since we are surrounded by so great a cloud of witnesses, let us also lay aside every weight, and sin which clings so closely, and let us run with endurance the race that is set before us, looking to Jesus, the founder and perfecter of our faith, who for the joy that was set before him endured the cross, despising the shame, and is seated at the right hand of the throne of God.
Today, perhaps because I have recently been reading about the lives of the saints over breakfast in The Book of Saints: A Day-by-Day Illustrated Encyclopedia
, I am most drawn to the first clause: “Therefore, since we are surrounded by so great a cloud of witnesses…” Abel. Enoch. Noah. Abraham and Sarah. Isaac. Jacob. Joseph. Moses. The people of Israel. Rahab. Gideon. Barak. Samson. Jephthah. David. Samuel. The prophets. The unnamed saints of Hebrews 11.
Who surrounds you in a great cloud of witnesses? Who encourages you to take the next step when your muscles burn with lactic acid and your breathing is labored? Whose voice calls out from the crowd in a cheer to give you hope that you might finish this race? Who hands you a cup of cool water when you feel like you have sweated out the last drop?
I am learning to recognize the faces in my crowd. There is Anna (Luke 2), a prophetess and the daughter of Phanuel, of the tribe of Asher. In her kind old eyes, I see she understands what it is like to have life turn out in ways entirely unexpected. From her, I gain hope that I might also devote myself to worship and prayer, waiting a lifetime with patient expectation to see the Lord. Farther down, I find Martha and Mary (Luke 10), the two halves of my own soul. O, Martha, like you, I too am distracted and anxious with much serving and need Jesus to remind me gently why I serve, to call me back to the one thing necessary. And, dear Mary, how sweet it is to sit with you at Jesus’ feet! These gospel women, who loved Jesus so entirely, inspire me to keep running. The crowd around us is large, and they cheer us on.
The race is long, and at times it can be punishing. Let us look today to the companions God provides and find strength to run as they ran.