Staying the course is an ironic metaphor for an asthmatic whose longest race ever was 3000 meters. Last by a larger margin than all the other runners combined, I crossed the finish line. I walked the race at a high school track meet so that one more completed event could benefit the team. All that mattered was that I finished.
Three weeks into Lent, I am well into the wheezing. Who thought that the family sacrificing screen time was a good idea, anyway? Someone should probably have her taken in for an assessment. The kids are in a withdrawal that feels like it might rival a narcotics addiction. I am appreciating the silence and the time with my book, even while my thumb twitches for my phone.
I have this fantasy before Lent starts that the sacrifices will be effortless and fruitful. Easter will arrive and I will be a changed person. The vision is not unlike my dream that I could run all 3000 meters without breaking a sweat. If only visualizing made it so!
In reality, my spiritual habits are just as hard to change as my physical ones. I fall down regularly, find myself in tears, nurse my aches, and think hard about giving up. I take frequent breaks on the sidelines, most of which threaten to be permanent. Staying the course seems like it might have been an error in judgement from the beginning.
We are well into third winter here in Saskatchewan: a perfect metaphoric parallel to the runner’s oasis when they round the track for what they think is the last time, but discover they miscounted and still have several more laps to go. The first weekend in Lent, we went out for an evening of dancing with puddles on the ground only to come out at a reasonable hour in a snowstorm to spend three hours in the ditch. And now this extrovert joins the rest of the world in self-isolation. These are the moments I want to stop running.
In the last several years, we have encountered enough suffering for a lifetime. I feel entitled to an early spring, an effortless Lent, and a first-place finish. How many times can the snow melt just to refreeze again? The answer seems to be all the times.
What if staying the course is, actually, still the answer? I don’t want to unplug the drain on the corner anymore, but the water still pools in the street and then freezes again. I want the ease of parenting with reasonable screen time, but we are all suffering from overuse. The challenges do not disappear if I quit running.
I love the passage in 2 Timothy that reads, “I have fought the good fight, I have finished the race, I have kept the faith” (4:7). Whether I walk around a track or forego TV, the biggest fight is inside my head. My obsession with winning makes me forget that finishing is what counts. Staying the course means trusting that there is a good ahead of me that I cannot fully see yet.
Both physical courses and spiritual paths have things to teach us with every step. Any medal awarded at the end is only a symbol of the wins along the way. In this way, staying the course is its own reward.
As I make my way through midlife, I am growing in my appreciation of a God who is not afraid of the sidelines. Even my crawling – backwards or forwards – does not seem to discourage this Creator of winters and springs. My stumblings seem to be enough to keep the Spirit cheering me on.
For this ten minutes, I will sit with two crying kids on my lap and remember that they are infinitely greater gifts than the phone which demands nothing of me. For one more Sunday afternoon, I will shovel snow until my muscles ache with the weight of it. For this season, I will count the blessings of what is, even while I wonder what is to come.
Fastest, straightest, and finest seem not to be God’s measures. Faithfully staying, putting one foot in front of the other, taking a rest when I need one and getting up to go again – these seem to be the stuff of spiritual growth and life. If I am going to say at the end that I finished the race, I simply have to keep staying the course.