Running The Race: Suffering Laboratory

On Dec. 4 I will run in the White Rock Marathon in Dallas. Once a week, I will provide my observations on the connection between the spiritual life and training to run a marathon. Please visit my White Rock fundraising page to honor my daughter and contribute to a great cause.

Training for any serious athletic endeavor is like entering into a laboratory for suffering. Each day is another opportunity to test physical suffering and determine what I am able to manage and overcome, as well as finding my suffering limitations. Some days, suffering is a welcomed ingredient to the training, met with respect and a healthy acknowledgement while other days, suffering seems the most important thing in the world to avoid. But any serious runner will tell you that you cannot avoid suffering and still reach your goals. You don’t complete a marathon on the back of an avoidance of suffering. You have to meet suffering face to face if you want to make progress in your training.

My marathon training has taught me about embracing suffering and difficulty. It has become a daily challenge to find the one moment when I tell myself I can do one more squat or one more sprint interval or tackle this hill one more time. And what do I discover through this suffering? Maybe nothing in the moment but the things I regularly do in today’s training, I thought were impossible two weeks ago. Suffering is necessary to move to the next stage in my training.

The biggest myth among Christians is that their faith will remove emotional and physical suffering from their life.  But this is counter to what Jesus said. He said that in this world you will have trouble (John 16:33) and that whoever wants to follow him must take up their cross (Mark 8:34) and those who want to be first must be last (Matt. 20: 16). Modern western Christians seem to want to try to avoid suffering at all costs but suffering is apparently an important aspect of your spiritual growth. Peter includes perseverance in his great list of add-ons to the faith (2 Peter 1:6). Growth and progress in the Christian life benefits from mountain top experiences and moments of spiritual highs but it excels when it has to work through suffering and endure through an experience where God’s presence isn’t just welcomed but a necessity.

As hard as the pain you are experiencing in your life may be, God is using that experience to refine you and mold you into the person he intends for you to be. We have to work through the pain just like a marathoner has to work through the discomfort and strain of training. There are rewards at the end of  both of these journeys. You just have to endure.

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