Does life sometimes feel like a race? One that you are ill-equipped and unprepared to handle? One that’s impossible to win? In an article in The National, a publication by Amtrak, Bob Cooper describes what has been called the world’s toughest ultramarathon.
Known as the “Berkley Marathon,” the race in Tennessee’s rugged Smokey Mountains was inspired by a 1977 prison escape from a nearby penitentiary. Now elite runners come from around the world to try and complete a 26-mile course five times in under 60 hours. In nearly three decades, fewer than 20 participants have finished – including 14 consecutive years in which there was no winner.
Still, roughly 1,200 people apply each year to crawl through a prison drainage tunnel, repeatedly climb six mountains, ford rivers and sidestep a cliff – often in fog, freezing drizzle, snow and rain. Adding to the challenge, the race provides no contact information (you have to track down the organizer yourself). And of those who manage to apply, only 40 are chosen. Their one help? A personal support crew to bandage blisters and provide food along the way.
Reading this, I was startled by how often life feels the same way. Impossible to prepare for. Uncertain of the directions. Encompassed by seemingly unsurmountable hazards and challenges. The apostle Paul also spoke of life as a race, encouraging those who would follow Jesus to “Run in such a way that you may win” (I Corinthians 9:24) and to “press on toward the goal for the prize of the upward call of God” (Philippians 3:14). Likewise, the author of Hebrews says to throw off every sinful snare that entangles us so that we might “run with endurance the race that is set before us” (12:1).
To successfully complete life’s race, we first need to track down the organizer. In Scripture God says, “You will seek me and find me when you seek me with all your heart” (Jeremiah 19:13). Once we accept God’s course for our life, as modeled by Jesus, he promises to protect and provide for us. He even supplies a guide. “And I will ask the Father, and he will give you another advocate to help you and be with you forever,” Jesus says in John 14:16. The word ‘advocate’ refers to God’s Spirit. According to the online Pulpit Commentary, it comes from a Greek word for ‘one who is called to the side of another’ for the purpose of helping and defending.
What good news!
When we embark on life’s race with the Creator of the universe, he pours his Spirit into us. No longer do we run alone. The very presence of God goes with us. He even provides a support crew, the local church, to bandage our blistered hearts and feed our hungry souls. And just like the inspiration for that first race, God desires to set us free from prison.
Easy? No. But not impossible. And for those chosen to run, the rewards are guaranteed.
Meadow Rue Merrill, the author of Redeeming Ruth: Everything Life Takes, Love Restores, writes for children and adults from a little house in the big woods of midcoast Maine.