I wish you could meet my friend, Jena. Maybe you already know her. Jena is tenacious. To give you an example, we ran a race together this weekend and at a little past mile twelve, when I was huffing it to keep up with her, Jena turned to me and asked, “Which of those two people in front of us do you want to try to beat?”
I think I gave some lame response. I said something like, “I’m just happy to still be moving.”
While I was forcing my legs to keep going, Jena proceeded to drop some deep thoughts about how much she wants to finish life well. Here we are at the end of a half marathon and I’m reminding myself to keep breathing while she is having profound insights, using our current race as a metaphor. As she is talking, we are gradually gaining speed. Before too long we pass the first person in front of us and then eventually the second.
While I was not motivated to exert myself to “beat” a complete stranger, I was highly motivated to cross the finish line pretty close to Jena. By the time we came to mile 13.1, I had run the half marathon with my personal best time. In fact, we ran the last mile more than two and half minutes faster than we ran our slowest mile.
I got a little emotional after the race thinking in gratitude about all the women who have been my running buddies over the years, because I know full well that without them there is NO WAY I’d be running in half marathons today. In fact, if you could look back over eleven years ago and see how rarely I exercised, you might be shocked to see how many miles I log with my friends each week now.
Someone once told me that you can tell someone’s true character by what they do when they are alone. There is probably a lot of truth in that statement, but I do not fundamentally agree with it. I don’t think it is biblical.
In Ecclesiastes chapter 4 it says, “Two are better than one, because… If either of them falls down, one can help the other up. But pity anyone who falls and has no one to help them up.”
I think the great wisdom of this verse is that we are better together. It is true, that left by myself I would not have ever started running on a regular basis…that probably was the true state of my character, BUT that did not make it my destiny.
INSTEAD, eleven years ago a friend named Amy invited me to run on the treadmill next to her at the YMCA for the twenty minutes right before our kids’ swim lessons. I would never have been motivated to go run for twenty minutes by myself twice a week, but to meet up for some quality time with one of my favorite friends, you bet. I’m in.
Twenty minutes of running, turned to into two miles which turned into three miles. In the summertime we started running outside. Eventually we made it to four miles. At some point we joined some other friends. Eventually, we ran outside all year long, super early in the morning. Gradually, we started running five miles three times a week, outside all year round (think: wet, dark, cold). And I GUARANTEE you that I would not have done any such thing without the accountability of knowing my friends were waiting for me when my alarm went off in the morning and the reward of getting such rich quality time with women I really enjoy.
What I am trying to say is that while our current true character may be defined by who we are when we are alone, our future is not defined that way. If we are humble enough to recognize we need help, if we are wise enough to find people who are strong where we are weak, and if we are brave enough to flex muscles we’ve never used before we can become the people we dream of being.
As I’m inching toward 50 years of life, I find myself heartily agreeing with Jena. I want to finish well. I want to keep learning. I want to keep growing. I want my faith to soar. I want to tackle new challenges and overcome old ones.
What I have learned is that if you truly want to finish well, it is important that you do not try to finish alone. Find some friends to run life with who will make you better, stronger. Find a way to “do life” with people you want to be more like. Find the tenacious ones who challenge you and easily do the things that are hard for you. Fight off every thought of comparison, discouragement or insignificance because I guarantee you that though you may be weak in one area, they will need you to shine in the ways that come naturally to you.
Next time I pass mile twelve with Jena and she turns to me and asks who I want beat on this race, I’ll know what to say. If I can breathe at all, I will gasp out my response, “I don’t know Jena, but I know I want to finish with you.”
Here’s to finishing well! And here’s to running together!