This Summer I’ve run my first race since I left school. It wasn’t a big race – it was only 5km (3.1miles) – but it needed me to prepare and to get myself ready for the activity. While the distance was longer than one of the traditional sprints, it was far from the length necessary for a long distance run. It was a long enough distance for a beginner or amateur to give a go. It needed preparation, but not so much that I got lost in weeks and weeks of progressively lengthy practice runs. It needed some thought, some general preparation, and then the stamina to do it.
That’s probably a fairly good metaphor for much of what we are faced with in our lives – situations that don’t overly tax us, but a little bit of early thought and preparation can really help us make the most of what we can. The Scouting maxim of ‘Be Prepared’ seems to be useful for when we need to put our hand to the wheel and get ourselves through something we’ve either not foreseen, or something that requires our stamina or experience. Some time spent honing our skills, or packing a suitable bag, can make sure that the journey or the activity is as accessible for us as possible. Sometimes a few stretches before we start on a task can get us warmed up, and the preparations we’ve done and the experiences we bring, are enough to help us through the mid-length run before us. Then it’s just the stamina needed to get us through.
In our personal lives, we can each point to the races that have needed our preparation, whether that be coping with family illness, or beginning a work project, or seeing children through school or university, or taking part in a hobby or pastime that involved us over a long period. Some of these will have felt more like sprints, while others will have felt more like marathons.
But we also get to experience such races in our Church life too. We go through the Christian year with the various seasons and festivals. We take part in projects and activities that keep us busy for a period. We have periods of service as elders and ministers that can be short or long, with different paces that fall into that – some where much stamina is needed and some where the pace is lighter. Sometimes we run together as a community towards a goal – such as with the development project – and other times it’s individuals and small groups working together on a smaller task or activity. Sometimes people need to take a rest from the race, while sometimes others come along and join in, bringing new energy.
The letter to the Hebrews reminds us that we are to ‘run with perseverance the race that is set before us, looking to Jesus the pioneer and perfecter of our faith’ (Hebrews 12.1-2). Whether that race is a short sprint towards a goal or a long distance plod, we are reminded that our focus when we run as Christians is towards Jesus who shapes and informs our life. Sometimes we need to do a bit more preparation to remind ourselves of that and other times we need some direction on the way to focus our attention back. But whether we need to run our own race or one as a community, whether it be short or long, when we prepare our hearts and minds, and limber ourselves up for the race ahead, then we can make it – wherever the road leads us.