On Sunday I ran the Sofia Half Marathon. Don’t worry; this is not a boasting blog about how amazing I am for running a race that hundreds of thousands of people run every year. I came in 288th out of 292, so I don’t exactly have a lot to boast about anyway. There is a point to this blog post, but boasting is not it.
The half marathon course is essentially a large loop that we ran three times, so I got to see the same sites over and over again. The first loop was exciting. We started out at a fairly good pace. We were full of energy from the healthy breakfasts we had eaten earlier that morning. Things were looking good. We cheered each other on and there were smiles on many faces. The worst experience that first lap was when one of the guys running a water station blocked me from getting a drink. (Not cool dude.)
The second lap was a bit harder. The smiles faded, and gaps between runners increased. I kept thinking to myself, the next time I pass this point will be my last time. For some reason, that did not help much.
The final lap was the worst. I was tired, but still had a long way to go. I started to get discouraged. Then off to the side I heard two voices yelling, “Dave Bliss from Minnesota! Go! Go!” It was a couple of my American friends who came out to cheer on the runners. Keep in mind, there were not a lot of fans watching us Sunday morning. For most of the race, the only spectators I saw were the police who were keeping cars off the course. To get encouragement like this during the final few kilometers was just what I needed to keep going.
I climbed the hill on the course for the final time, and rounded the half-way point of the loop, but I was losing steam. My run had turned into a shuffle. My body was running low on energy. Every step felt like I was lifting a lead weight. As I approached the stadium I saw my family and the family of my running partner cheering me on. I gave them high fives, and I pushed on to the end. I had run the course laid out for me.
After Sunday, I will never underestimate the importance of having people there to help you along. Be it my running partner, my family and friends who cheered me on, or the woman who handed me a cup of Gatorade as I started the final lap, I could not have made it without them.
Like the course I ran, serving in ministry in a land I did not grow up in can be tiring. Often times it can feel like we are running alone. Sometimes those who are supposed to help callously hinder us (like the race volunteer who would not let me get a drink), but such people are a rarity and quickly get left behind. It is the sense of being alone that makes this race the hardest.
But then just when I begin to wonder if it is worth it, and if I should go on, I get support from the sidelines. Like the note I got from an elder at my sending church last month letting me know that he gets and reads my newsletters every time I send them and is praying for us; or the friend who sent us a gift last month because she believes in our work here. Such people keep us going.
The race I ran on Sunday was nothing compared to the race Christians run every day. Sometimes we stumble and fall. Sometimes we are week and tired. Sometimes we feel alone (though we never are). We press on by the grace of God. By His strength we will finish the race.