Finding Jesus in a Bad Race

Written by the Rev. Margie Baker, Associate Rector at St. John’s (West Hartford).

A few Mondays ago, I joined thousands of other runners at the starting line of the Boston Marathon. It wasn’t my first Boston (it was my fourth), but I was underprepared and poorly rested. I was nervous about the heat and sun.

The race began and my legs settled into just under goal pace. My breathing felt relaxed, I wasn’t overdressed, and my music was on point.

This lasted for approximately seven miles, but then the sun and heat began to do their work. There’s no shade on the course and, despite a hat, sunglasses, and SPF 50, I felt myself baking.

Around mile nine I shed my first tears. If you’ve never cried while running, trust me: it’s not fun.

I was crying not in pain but in frustration: frustration at my body, at my lack of training, at how much money I spent to be here, at the difficult choice to keep going at the pace I desired or slow down and have a lackluster, still possibly disastrous race.

I texted my wife: “Feel like absolute crap. I think I’m gonna quit.”

I stopped at the medical tent around mile ten for ice and shade. I was done.

Running has been there for me since college as a place to find control in a sometimes out-of-control world. Running calms my mind and taxes my body. There have been seasons of my life when I’ve prayed on the run, although these days I’m more likely to listen to a podcast or a playlist.

I love the discipline of training for a race. I’ve run more marathons than I can count, and just about every one of them has been a challenge. I learn things about myself on the run. I work through problems.

I do not believe that everything happens for a reason. But I do believe, strongly, that God can redeem anything. So, in no particular order, here’s what that redemption has looked like and what I hope it’ll look like in the future.

  • It’s good that I quit. I was angry at myself, but I was also too hot. Me stopping this race before I was actually sick is a sign that I’m learning to trust my own decision making. And friends, when we trust ourselves to make decisions that go against our ego, we can be pretty sure that God is cheering us on.
  • My friends and family (a) are amazing and (b) do not love me when or because I succeed. Logically this isn’t news to me, but oh how often do I conflate my desire to accomplish something with others’ ability to love and value me. That’s not how it works, y’all. We love one another because of our inherent worth and dignity as God’s children, not because of what we accomplish. When I feel that sort of love, it reminds me that love itself is a gift from God. “Beloved, let us love one another, because love is from God; everyone who loves is born of God and knows God. Beloved, since God loved us so much, we also ought to love one another” (1 John 4:7, 11).
  • As the Book of Ecclesiastes reminds us, there really is a season for everything, and in this season of my life I’ve been doing too much. Would I have learned that lesson if the weather hadn’t been too much for me? Probably not. Do I want to revisit my idea about things happening (or not) for a reason? Definitely not. But the seasons of our lives are real, and serious, and we ignore the rhythms of our lives at our own peril. We are finite creatures, and we cannot do it all. I am often praised for my energy and drive. Perhaps in this season God would rather I learn that “in returning and rest you shall be saved; in quietness and in trust shall be your strength” (Isaiah 30:15b).
  • We are not our actions. (Say it again, and again, and again). We are made of dirt and divine breath, utterly mundane and yet filled with the Holy Spirit. We, like Peter, will absolutely fall short, and in much more serious places than a footrace. We will try and fail. To be human is to fail, at least some of the time. When I feel like a failure, I give that feeling to Jesus, knowing that he’s seen worse failures than mine and will not leave me where I am.

So, friends, a few Mondays ago I had a bad race. Since then I’ve meditated on the mundane and the divine. How could I have trained better? What can I do differently next time? Have I conflated my progress and my worth?

May we balance seasons of work and seasons of rest. May we forgive ourselves and one another, and above all may we know ourselves to be loved, completely and inexhaustibly, by the God who made us and saves us and will not abandon us.

One thought on “Finding Jesus in a Bad Race

  1. Margie, you are an inspiration to all of us! More than you realize — not because of what you accomplish (though it is often so much), but because of your beautiful, gentle, brilliant spirit that shines so much light into the world. I am going to carry these words with me; thank you for sharing them:
    “We are made of dirt and divine breath, utterly mundane and yet filled with the Holy Spirit.”

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