If you think the idea of running a marathon is hard, you should try training for one!
In my lifetime, I have now trained for, and competed in, seven marathons. Over the course of the training, I have often found myself battling the same defeating thought process. As the weekly miles add up, the legs and body inevitably begin to fatigue. After a tiring 7 or 8 mile run on a gruesome day in the Pacific Northwest, I will find myself looking ahead at my training schedule. (Typically, I have mapped out a training plan of about 20-24 weeks from start to race day.)
My brain begins to jump ahead to the weeks to come, and my emotions do as well. I will begin to think, “If today’s run was so challenging, how will I complete the longer run this weekend?” Or, “This week is really wearing me out- and next week is only harder!” Or, “If I’m this fatigued after 7 hard miles, how can I possibly push myself for 26 miles on race day?” As these negative thoughts begin to pile up, and the fear within begins to rise. Doubt and worry have a way of reaching up and grabbing the soul until I am tempted to bag the whole thing.
As this happens, I have developed a helpful mantra: Run the next mile. Simply put, I try and focus on the only mile I can control: the one I am on. When I start to worry about next week’s speed workout, I’ll tell myself, “run the mile in front of you.” When I’m getting tired during a run and wondering if I can make it home, I’ll say out-loud, “run the mile you’re on.” When I find myself fearful at night about how I’ll perform on the day of the race, I think to myself- you guessed it- “Just run the next mile.” Something about this approach has a way of calming my spirit and focusing my emotions.
Recently at East Hills, I have been preaching through a series on grace. “How does grace relate to training for marathons?” you may ask. Well, in life, like in training, we have a tendency to begin looking ahead. We might wonder if we have what it takes to forgive someone if they hurt us again. We worry that our kids will grow up to make poor decisions, or choose lifestyles that we disagree with. How will we maintain a positive relationship if that happens? An old habit continues to rear its ugly head in our lives and we fear we are powerless to ever change and be free. We see challenges looming down the road in our workplace, and question whether or not we can handle it. Fear assaults us in situation after situation- what if the diagnosis is cancer? What if the car breaks down? What if a red cup at my favorite coffee shop really does signal the end of Christmas celebrations in our culture? This kind of fear can cripple us and steal the confidence of faith.
So, may I suggest that you develop a mantra similar to mine? Grace for today. One day at a time, God gives us grace for ourselves and for others. In Scripture, the prophet Jeremiah declares,
Because of the Lord’s great love we are not consumed,
For His compassions never fail.
They are new every morning,
Great is your faithfulness.
-Lamentations 3:22, 23
Did you catch that? New every morning. Not every week, or month or year. But each morning, a new supply of his compassion- His amazing grace- is poured out for us. He gives us for today just what we need for today. And He’ll do the same tomorrow, and the next day and the day after that. Some days, we may only need a little of His grace. We’ll have it. Other days, we may feel we need a truckload of grace, and we will have what we need on that day, too.
So when your emotions begin to creep up and grab your soul, when fear of the future has paralyzed your progress, repeat after me: Grace for today. Run the mile you’re on. Jesus said, “Look at the birds of the air- they do not sow or reap or stow away in barns, and yet your heavenly Father feeds them. Are you not much more valuable than they? Who of you be worrying can add a single hour to his life? (Matthew 6:26, 27) Birds don’t worry about tomorrow. At least, I’m guessing they don’t- I’ve never really asked. But the principle is good- God cares about us so much that He will give us today exactly what we need.
So we trust Him. We look to His grace. And when our heart grows feeble at the thought of tomorrow, we can say, “Grace for today.” For tomorrows marathon can worry about itself. His grace is yours today.