I hate running. When I was in school at Biola University in the late 1980s, I ran to burn off all that yummy dorm food, but hated every single minute of it. I remember a time I was determined to run home from church, a distance of five miles, telling myself that I could go as slow as I wanted to, but I could not stop and walk. There were times I slowed to a crawl, my legs and lungs burning, my mouth tasting like something I figured was blood, but I somehow managed to keep going.
Twenty years later, however, quitting is easier. I am crouching on 40. I need reading glasses. My hip hurts. I have enough life experience to know just how hard a certain task will be or how much effort it will take and, I admit, I am often tempted to just give up, to take the easy route, to stop volunteering or making homemade food or training my children. I find myself moving toward "conservation of energy" rather than taking the extra effort to make a family a meal or to dedicate myself to more prayer. Does all that extra effort really matter?
Gordon MacDonald's A Resilient Life challenges just such a mentality. Whether it is a certain besetting sin, a bad marriage, financial failure, or simple exhaustion, he encourages the Christian to "throw off everything that hinders and the sin that so easily entangles" and run with resilience the race set before him (Hebrews 12:1).
But, rather than arguing for more flogging or boot strap pulling, MacDonald lays out the qualities a person is to develop in order to become resilient. Among his many chapter headings we find that resilient people have life direction, have a strong sense of "call," are confident in their gifts, are generous, repair the past, practice repentance, forgive quickly, are grateful, examine the past for wisdom, are physically fit, grow their minds, have a close group of friends, and open their hearts to the presence of God.
Life can be messy, no doubt. Surely we have more than enough reason to throw up our hands in despair, throw in the towel, toss those moldy lemons because who likes lemonade anyway, or to turn cynical and bitter and angry. Our bones hurt and the kids are disobeying again and your brother hasn't spoken to you in seven years. The people at church seem to have such happy marriages, and why can't you have one? After all, you have tried and tried to live for God, so why is it that your dreams don't come true and that your ideas fail and you are just so tired of it all and it is never getting better? After all, it is so uncomfortable to call those ungrateful children who don't even deserve to be invited over anyway or to say you are sorry when she is the one who is so hard to love or to have that family with seven kids over for supper just to have to stay up until midnight cleaning the kitchen or to continue studying the Bible. After all, you know whole chapters of the Bible by heart and every verse of the great hymns and you've heard sermons on almost every topic and read practically every book on faith your church library owns. So why are you struggling with the same sin again and again? And is there really anything new out there and does all of this effort really matter anyway?
MacDonald reminds us that we are running a race. And the course we follow is often fraught with sharp rocks and tight turns and hills we can't see the tops of. And just as the runner looks toward the finish line:
"Let us fix our eyes on Jesus, the author and perfecter of our faith, who for the joy set before him endured the cross, scorning its shame, and sat down at the right hand of the throne of God. Consider him who endured such opposition from sinful men, so that you will not grow weary and lose heart" (Hebrews 12: 2-3).
In those moments where the lure of sitting down beckons like a Siren, remember that this is the God who knows your name, who knows the number of hairs on your (your!) head, who counts your tears and puts them in a bottle, who calls you his blessed child. So don't look back, don't look to the right, don't look to the left, but look forward. Set your sights and run, run, run.