By The Rev. Daniel P. Richards, Rector, Christ Church of the Ascension (Paradise Valley)
“This is a marathon, not a sprint.” I have run both in life and in ministry, and life is sometimes one and sometimes the other.
There are moments when we have to go hard right now. We have to accomplish the goal, show up when needed, and stay focused until the race is over. Sometimes those quick, hard efforts pay off for the Reign of God in this world and in the next. They can really pay off in our own lives.
When you sprint, your body produces HGH and testosterone, leading to better body composition, feelings of calm confident power, and a longer life. Everyone needs both. But sprinting means different things to different people at different ages. A sprint in this season of my life looks very different than when I was a high school athlete, and no sprint of mine has ever looked like Florence Griffith-Joyner.
On a spiritual level, sprinting happens when we are needed for the short, hard effort, and God sometimes needs us to show up. But just like physical sprints, these efforts can have surprising benefits in our interior lives: greater discipline, confidence, awareness of God’s ability to use you, and a stronger spiritual life that can weather small storms with larger grace.
One of the tricks of learning to sprint is that you have to learn how to stop and return to a steady state. This takes training, but it makes the difference between a Griffith-Joyner who was successful over years and being injured or burnt out, lying on the couch remembering “the good old days.” Measured in heart rate variability, it is the ability to get up to speed and come back down again.
But sometimes the race is not over for a long time. Sometimes it is a marathon. Most of my running career has been long, quiet runs that no one ever sees. I learned self-discipline, pain tolerance, and also how to have peace on long runs.
Spiritually, dealing with long-term illness, most injustices, and relationships require more endurance than speed, more patience than insistence. Can you find that peace a sprinter finds minutes after a race while still in the running?
Jesus napped on the bench in the back of the boat. He took strolls on stormy seas. He stood quietly before unjust trials and the questioning of judges and rulers. Can I?
A spiritual life is part of everyone’s life, but a strong, confident life of peace and faith that can get the job done and stay in the race when no one is watching happens with training and time. Archbishop Tutu may have been born with that smile, but he was able to keep it by long days of unseen practice. The Rev. Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr., did not merely come up with Scripture quotes in the moment looking for something inspirational to say. He studied and prayed and sought God. He had the words because he was in the Word.
We cannot show up at the starting line and hope for good outcomes in a vague way, or we will end up with vague outcomes, losses, and injuries. As true in the physical life in the spiritual. God is calling you to be part of his Reign, to be a member of his family, and to be an ambassador of his peace, goodwill, justice, and grace.
That is not a vague hope or just some earthly glory. One day peace will come. Goodwill will be restored with justice. And grace will rule. Be part of it. Sometimes it is a sprint, and sometimes it is a marathon, but run the race that is set before you so that you may receive the laurel of life.
The laurel is that green leafy crown that Caesars wear in images. It was the penultimate prize at the Olympics or life. It was what the soldiers mocked as they wove Jesus’s out of thorns. When his blooms, we will receive ours as well.
“Do you not know that in a race the runners all compete, but only one receives the prize? Run in such a way that you may win it. Athletes exercise self-control in all things; they do it to receive a perishable wreath, but we an imperishable one. So I do not run aimlessly, nor do I box as though beating the air; but I punish my body and enslave it, so that after proclaiming to others I myself should not be disqualified.” — 1 Corinthians 9:24–27 (NRSV)