One night several years ago, I took off like Forrest Gump and started running. It was the kind of run generated by the need to burn off stress, anxiety, and fear. It was raining and I made it just about two miles before I called it quits. Little did I know, I had found a new outlet of self-care and even spiritual formation. As I started to run regularly, my times also began to shrink. I went from a ten-minute mile pace to just under seven in the matter of nine months. Each night, I was determined to beat my previous time. I wanted to be faster.
Then my uncle invited me to run the Broad Street Ten Miler. I had never run that far. I did not think I could run that far.
That is, until I changed my pace and stopped running primarily for a faster time. This was the moment I really started to enjoy running. That was when I learned I could run farther and longer. That was when I began to find greater joy in the landscape and landmarks of the routes and cities and neighborhoods and even as far as the streets of Bethlehem. That was when I started running for longevity versus speed, to finish strong not fast.
What is beautiful about the medals you receive at the end of these races, which now includes my second half marathon, is they all say “Finisher.” They are not sized or colored or awarded based on your time. Unless you registered as an elite, those who finish in 95 minutes receive the same award as those whose time was just under 180 minutes. We are all finishers.
This past Sunday, the lectionary gospel hinged on the mystery of God’s timing related to “the end of the age” (Matthew 24). Jesus does not resolve the disciples’ obsession with time, “when will the end come?" Instead, he nudges them to press on towards a faithful finish regardless of time. Pace yourself. Breathe. Trust. Move in rhythm with the Way shown you. Or as the writer of Hebrews would later say, "let us run with perseverance the race that is set before us, looking to Jesus the pioneer and perfecter of our faith” (12:1-3).
Guatemalan poet and activist, Julia Esquivel, calls this race a “marathon of hope” (Threatened by Resurrection). What I love about this race, those who are last are ultimately first, and we are all finishers. God shows know partiality to our times or scores. So enjoy the run. Be kind to yourself and strangers along the route. Find your rhythm and pace setters. And know that you are loved no matter when or how you cross the finish, which is really just a new beginning.