I laced up my trail shoes and took a deep breath. The delicious aroma of the forest filled me. My eyes lifted, tracing the trunks of pine trees pointing toward heaven. Butterflies danced in my stomach as I anticipated running in a trail race again.
In 2020 and early 2021, most trail and road races were canceled. Because of the global pandemic and a long fire season in California, it had been more than fifteen months since I’d run in an official race.
That’s a long time for me.
You see, running has always been my saving grace. It’s the way I clear my mind and re-center my heart back on God and the truth. It’s the place I preach the gospel back to myself when I’m feeling weary or out of sorts. I generally choose several races a year to train for because the joy is in the training – starting out slow and building up to longer miles. I love working toward a goal and seeing how God meets me with His glory on the journey.
Training outdoors in God’s creation is my favorite soul care, but this year training was rough through the many weeks of horrible air quality due to forest fires. I tried to exercise indoors, but it wasn’t quite the same without the beautiful mountain backdrops. The air was thick and heavy, and the sky was often an apocalyptic pink.
On the morning of the Shadow of the Giants 25k, my heart pulsed with anticipation. It was my fifth time running this race. Returning to this course has always been a marker to reflect on how far God has brought me in this race of life, and He’s always met me in a unique way as my shoes hug the familiar trails.
However, as I followed the camber of the trail at 6,000-feet elevation, I saw trees with blackened trunks. The landscape felt stark and unfamiliar. Whole sections of the forest were open and bare like too much scalp showing after a bad haircut. There was an eerie hush over the land.
Dirt and gravel gave way to sand and tree roots as the trail took a sharp turn upwards. The sun beat down on my shoulders. There were moments when it felt too arduous to even lift my legs, let alone run.
One more step, one more stretch, I kept telling myself. Persevere.
I couldn’t help thinking about how the Shadow of the Giants course mirrored many of our experiences this past year through the pandemic. Just as we rounded one bend and anticipated a little downhill, there was another surprising, sharp uphill to climb.
Perseverance means to persist in spite of difficulty, obstacles, or discouragement we might encounter.
The Bible talks a lot about perseverance and how it is a key ingredient to growing our faith. Hebrews 12:1 says, “And let us run with perseverance the race marked out for us, fixing our eyes on Jesus, the pioneer and perfecter of faith.”
It’s easy to focus our eyes on our shortcomings and disappointments, but Hebrews 12 reminds us where we need to fix our eyes — on Jesus. He’s the pioneer, the trail blazer, our pacer for life.
I have learned on my journey that the best way to navigate grief, to tackle impossible assignments, and to face tough conversations is to take the next step, and then the next.
When you’re tired of getting up in the morning for that same job, persevere.
When you’re discouraged about your child struggling in school, persevere.
When you have pandemic fatigue and you’re tired of all the protocols and decisions, persevere.
When you’re navigating another health challenge, persevere.
Friend, I know some of you are tempted to give up right about now. You are bone-weary and frustrated. You are staring up another uphill climb and wondering if it will ever get easier. Let me encourage you to persevere.
Notice Hebrews 12:1 does not say to bootstrap your way to the finish line. It doesn’t say push yourself so hard that you neglect much needed rest. It doesn’t say to try to find the shortest or easiest possible route. It says to run with perseverance after Jesus.
Romans 5:3-5 reminds us what perseverance produces:
We also glory in our sufferings, because we know that suffering produces perseverance; perseverance, character; and character, hope. And hope does not put us to shame, because God’s love has been poured out into our hearts through the Holy Spirit, who has been given to us.
Did you catch that?
Perseverance produces character and leads us down the path to hope.
Jesus persevered up a huge hill to die on a cross in our place. Three days later, He rose from the grave. He is our example of perseverance that regenerates hope.
I’m not going to lie. Those last few miles in the Shadow of the Giants race were hard. They changed the course because of some construction on the road, and it threw me off. At one point, I imagined myself dropping to the ground and crawling to the finish line. The struggle was real.
And then suddenly, my feet found a familiar road flanked by glorious trees that led to the finish line. I came full circle on the path that reminded me His glory still persists. And though the trail was much harder than I anticipated, I found the work of perseverance had paid off and hope filled me to keep going.