Enjoy the Struggle

In Perspective, Soul Food on July 26, 2011 by The Spillover

Do you not know that in a race all the runners run, but only one gets the prize? Run in such a way as to get the prize. Everyone who competes in the games goes into strict training. They do it to get a crown that will not last; but we do it to get a crown that will last forever. Therefore I do not run like a man running aimlessly; I do not fight like a man beating the air. No, I beat my body and make it my slave so that after I have preached to others, I myself will not be disqualified for the prize.  -1 Corinthians 9:24-27

Think about a marathon. The person who successfully completes a marathon will have been beaten their body into submission and lived life with one singular purpose for months or years beforehand: winning the race. It determines how they eat, how they sleep, how they spend their free time, how they spend their money…how they live their life.

They will have come to the race prepared. During the race, they will have strained every fiber in their being to deny themselves the luxury of comfort, to keep running, keep straining, to ignore the pain, to push themselves faster and further than any sort of logic would tell them they could go. It’s a race. It’s a competition. It’s not a leisurely jog. It’s a race! There is a purpose to the running, a purpose to the pain.

I want to live in such a way that I look forward to my death in the way I would look forward to the end of a race. While running the race is fulfilling, every runner looks forward to the finish line. It’s hard work. You want to be done so you can rest.

I want to work for God in such a way that I never let myself get too comfortable here. That when the time comes for me to die, I can exhale and be comfortable knowing that I’ve run the race with a purpose. That I didn’t jump off track and nap for a decade because I got tired and longed for comfort. I want to run the race.

This is my grandest wish for myself, and also my life’s daily struggle. It’s hard to stay in strict training. It’s hard to beat your body into submission. Just look around. We’re surrounded by comfort and luxury. Indulgence is everywhere; euphoria can be bought. Apathy is normal. The mission is so easily compromised.

All of this makes me think of Rachael Townsend.

An mentor, teacher, and friend in my high school life was a woman named Rachael Townsend. Her first day as a teacher was my first class in high school. We were new together. Over my high school career we developed a special friendship. She was an elite athlete. She taught gym, exercise classes, coached soccer, and was a college dance instructor.  In 2003 she ran in the Chicago Marathon with the goal of qualifying for the Boston Marathon. She had to beat the time of 3 hours, 41 minutes. She finished in 3 hours, 40 minutes, and 32 seconds.

She trained hard, she ran the race, and she accomplished her goal.

And very shortly after crossing the finish line, she collapsed.

The doctors said it was a heart problem that nobody could have known about. Their best guess is that she was dead before she hit the ground. She was 29.

Her motto throughout her training days was “enjoy the struggle”. She’s become known by that quote.

My prayer for you and me is that we can embrace the struggle of living out the gospel and accept that it’s a race. We have to train, we have to stay focused, we have to keep the goal in mind. We have to fight compromise. We’re running for an eternal trophy. And running is hard work.

By God’s grace we can even learn to enjoy the struggle, the way Miss Townsend did.

3 Responses to “Enjoy the Struggle”

  1. she was indeed a great lady. good motto for our most important race.

  2. A couple of numbers stood out to me, as I read the story about Miss Townsend:

    First, 28. She was able to say “I did it” (achieve her goal) by a margin of 28 measly seconds. The gap between finishing well and not is often very narrow. The difference between a life well lived and a life filled with regret is oftentimes a collection of many, many, many 28 second differentials. All of those seemingly little and insignificant choices we make eventually add up and begin to define us.

    Second, 29. As Adam describes her, Miss Townsend was athletic, fit, talented & motivated. And dead at 29. No guarantees of tomorrow, or even the next hour. That’s the difference about the life-marathon that we’re running…the finish line is different for each of us, and hidden, too. So I’d better be running the race and “enjoying the struggle” right here and right now.

    Old guy (Paul, the mentor) to not-so-old guy (Timothy, the protege): “As for me, my life has already been poured out as an offering to God. The time of my death is near. I have fought the good fight, I have FINISHED THE RACE, and I have remained faithful.” –2 Timothy 4:6-7

    • No guarantees is so true. Anyone who knew her would have bet she’d live to 100. You just never know.

      Another guy I knew died in a car wreck a few months ago. A neighbor of ours just died of cancer; a year ago she had no idea anything was wrong. Not trying to be morbid, it’s just the honest truth.

      What a blessing to be able to greet death knowing your life was poured out for God’s kingdom, whether that time comes tonight or in 50 years.

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