In a million years, I never would have expected to become someone who enjoyed running. Ever. In fact, it has historically been one of the most painful self-inflicted activities I could imagine enduring.

Yet somehow in the past four years of motherhood, I’ve grown to crave the time alone in the beauty of creation, the opportunity to quiet my mind before the day begins, the time to pray for the things and people rolling around my heart, the discipline of pushing myself beyond my natural capabilities, and the satisfaction of doing something harder than I thought was possible.

Last weekend I completed my third half-marathon. It was one of the hardest races I’ve ever run, but the beauty of the day came as God reminded me over and over this wasn’t about running, it was about training myself to persevere through hard things.

Outside of running, I’ve recently started doing something else that feels really hard.  It’s the first time in several years that I’ve stepped into a position of leadership, a place where I’d always felt pretty comfortable—at least, the old me felt comfortable. That was before I spent the last half a decade releasing my need to be seen as competent, my striving for perfection, and my addiction to control.

Leading without falling into those old tendencies to perform for others’ approval feels vulnerable and exhilarating and a bit like exploring uncharted territory. At this stage in my life, however, I feel humbled by the chance to practice believing that success or failure in the things I’m doing does not define who I am or what I’m worth.

This new position requires time, commitment, and perseverance. It fills my soul, stretches my mind, builds my faith, and encourages my heart—but it’s really hard. As passionate as I am about what I’m doing, it requires an extraordinary amount of discipline and organization to complete. I consistently choose to believe this thing is worth my time, effort, and sacrifice. Kind of like when I was training for a half-marathon.

It’s not a matter of if challenges will come, but when and in what form. We are all running a different race, but not a single one is free of obstacles, setbacks, or pain. Sometimes we choose the road, sometimes it chooses us. But no matter our story, the road before us offers us the choice to press on toward the goal or collapse in discouragement. I choose the former.

As I think about the hard things we all face, here are two life lessons I want to remember about persevering in the race I’m running every day:

Life Lesson #1: Pace matters. Last weekend I ran too fast. I made the classic race mistake of starting out faster than I normally run—almost a full minute per mile faster than I’d trained. (Note to self: Adrenaline never lasts for 13.1 miles.) I hit the wall hard when I was only about half-way to the finish line.

Although I’d felt unstoppable only moments before, my legs suddenly felt too heavy to lift and breathing felt like sucking air through tiny straws. My mind went from reveling in the glory of the morning to focusing on each step, wondering how in the world I would make it to the next aid station, let alone the end of the race.

As I realized that there was no way I could sustain the same speed I had started, I sensed a holy whisper saying, “You are not called to run fast, just to move forward.”  One step at a time. Letting go of how I expected this race to play out (like, that I would run it) and accepting what I was actually capable of maintaining in each moment. I had to walk more than I’ve ever walked during a previous race or training run, but that was the only way I could continue on.

In reality, I’m not designed to move through life as quickly as I’d like to most of the time. I’m human and limited  on purpose—yet I often approach life as I ran the first half of this race, pushing faster and harder than I can sustain, winding up frustrated and disappointed in myself when I crash and can’t continue. My husband often asks me, “Do you want to do this for a few months or many years?” He is so wise.

I want to live at a pace that brings joy, not exhaustion. I want to create “margin” in my days, leaving enough wiggle room in my schedule to be flexible and spontaneous, able to respond to the needs of those around me in a way that can’t be planned into my calendar.

I want to be able to finish the race, running victoriously through the finish line, instead of collapsing on the side of the road before I reach the end. The pace I set today determines the length of the race I’ll be able to run. Life isn’t made to be a sprint—slowing down is the only way I’ll have the stamina to persevere all the way to the end.

As more seasoned runners sped by faster than I could ever complete one mile, let alone 13.1, I was tempted to measure my success by whether or not I could keep up with them. The truth is I am not made to run anyone’s race but my own. Comparison steals my sense of worthiness. If I’m only successful when I’m ahead of the competition, I’ll never know what it means to be my best self. My own race is the only one I’m called to finish.

Life Lesson #2: We are not designed to do it alone. Running with someone is harder than running alone. Talking and breathing (which, it turns out, is necessary to live) aren’t possible if I’m pushing too hard. Running with a partner slows me down to a healthier, sustainable speed—it also causes me to think about something other than my physical struggle.

Although it often seems easier to run by myself, running with a friend gives me the encouragement and perspective I need to keep pressing on toward my goal. Just like the African proverb says, ‘If you want to go fast, go alone. If you want to go far, go together.’

My friend, Christy, started training with me several months ago, but had to stop running with only a few weeks before the race due to injury. Even though her role changed, her commitment never wavered. She showed up at my house with her bike for long runs, encouraging me and handing me Skittles when I needed a boost. She even traveled with me overnight to the race, waiting at several mileposts holding a sign and cheering me on when my face told her I wasn’t going to make it.

We all need friends who will help us persevere through hard things. We need people who are willing to stand up for us and remind us what we’re capable of, to give us a boost and believe in us when we can’t believe in ourselves. In fact, the more I was struggling, the more desperately I looked for Christy’s smiling face around the next corner. The harder the race, the more we need people to go with us.

* * *

I’m not sure at this point if I have another race in my future, but I do know that my life is full of opportunities to continue my “perseverance training” in other forms. I don’t want to be afraid of difficulty because now I know that doing hard things forces me to slow down and makes me stronger than I was before.

My pace today may look different than someone else’s, but I’m asking the people around me to remind me often that the actual finish line is not of this world. This race I’m running every day is building my endurance, training my heart, focusing my mind and making me whole so that I can run all the way to the end of this life and into eternity.

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