This post usually follows somewhere after my marathon. As a youth pastor, it’s easy to start seeing sermon illustrations while running.
The atmosphere is beautiful at the beginning. Over seven lanes of traffic, there are people shoulder to shoulder covering almost half a mile. 31,000 runners line the street of West End Avenue in Nashville, Tennessee. Some are talking nervously, some are listening to music, some are bouncing around, some are quietly waiting with their eyes closed for the gun to sound. When they’re off, they’re off quickly.
At mile 2, I had two men pass me talking about their pace, to which I told them (I’m at a 7:40 pace right now). This helped them. They knew they needed to slow down. They took it easier. They thanked me. I never saw them again.
At mile 5 I saw some people I went to college with. A quick, “Go Ryan!” surged me onward.”
At mile 8, I saw a guy I went to church with, taught at my college, played softball with, etc. I said, “Lookin’ good, Mike!”
At mile 9, I passed a church with a praise team playing out front. They were playing “Forever” and I ran through with my arms lifted high towards the heavens. The crowd around the church roared. A man running beside me said, “You could feel the spirit at that corner.”
At mile 10.5, I saw my family. They snapped pictures, smiled, and told me I was doing a good job.
At mile 12, running through the projects of Nashville, I passed an African American family sitting next to their beat up car. The mother looked at me and said, “You go runner!” I smiled and sped up at the encouragement.
When it got tougher, other runners began to speak. I passed a guy doing a race within the race for Foot Locker. Local runners were racing against one another, and this guy was in the lead, but he was hurting. I ran by and said, “Looking good Foot Locker!” He smiled and started running.
At mile 20, it hurt. We all hurt. I passed a guy who stopped running and clenched his calves. I asked if he was okay, he said “Yes. Thanks.”
I’ve already posted about my trip in the last 6 miles. I made friends. Mike from the Bronx and I talked about running, how much it hurt, and how we were going to finish and we were both doing great. I talked to Bo, running his first marathon. “Come on, Bo. Push it. Don’t walk. Let’s go.” And off he went, running.
Cheerleaders, water stop volunteers, random strangers. They all cheered. They refused to let a runner come in slowly. This was the marathon. This was the event of all events. At mile 26, there are only .2 miles left. My calves were locked up. My hamstrings were tighter than guitar strings, but there were thousands of people screaming and cheering for every runner who went by. The atmosphere made me forget the pain. I threw my arms up and the crowd exploded. They needed the push. They saw someone feeding off of their excitement, and that excited them more. They loved to be that encourager. They loved to see someone finish well, because they were the positive influence. I ran past the finish line with my arm pointing to heaven with a smile on my face.
After I finished, stretched, convulsed on the ground from my cramps like a demon was leaving my body, and began to walk to where my family had parked, we stopped about a tenth of a mile from the finish. By this time, a lot of the runners had been on the course for four and a half hours. Some of them were hurting. Some were running. They were sprinting to the line. But, my favorite were the people who were walking. I’d look at one of them and say, “Yellow shirt – run it in, you’ve got this.” Then that beautiful smile would spread across their face and they’d begin to do the limp/jog. It brightened my day to be able to return the favor that so many fans had done for me. I loved seeing the appreciating of some of the people who heard me encourage them. There were probably a dozen people in 30 minutes who were walking and went to running, simply because of encouraging words.
I guess you know where this is going. But, it’s sad that we don’t see this atmosphere in the Christian church. For 26 miles – for 3 hours and 50 minutes and 54 seconds, all I heard was cheering. People never looked at me and said, “You need to run faster!” or “Your stride is wrong!” In fact, they lied to me a lot and said, “Hey, you’re looking great!” I hurt, but there they were. There are people who are hurting in the world today, and what do we do? Nothing most of the time. They run by us, limping, wondering when they’re going to make it to the finish line, and we just stand there, silent. Some people might not be hurting, they might just be tired, and we don’t say a word. In fact, we look past them for someone we know. We hold up our sign for our friends, but for that other person, chasing the same goal as our friend, we leave them alone. Maybe they’re not hurting, or tired. Maybe they’re looking super strong. How much stronger could they be?
Paul continually speaks in his letters of encouraging one another. In fact, in Romans 12, he references this as a spiritual gift. Every single Christian you know is running a race. Will you encourage them today?