“I can do all things through Christ who gives me strength” (Philippians 4:13).
Last Wednesday was the culmination of two months of faithful training. I started out to complete my first uninterrupted 5k run. I had two months to scout out the various routes around town and pick my favorite. I didn’t pick the easiest; I picked the one that kept me closest to home. The trade-off was a hill that tripped me up every time. I always have to walk this hill; I never make it up at a jog, even. But having started out, I was headed in that direction and there was no turning back. I’m stubborn like that.
I walked for five to warm up, then hit my usual stride. I didn’t start out fast, but hit the stride I was going to have to endure for the next thirty minutes. The initial part of this run is uphill, leveling out near a school, then dipping down one street, up to another and looping around to a consistent hill before beginning a descent that would last long enough to prepare my muscles for the next incline. This is the part that kicked my butt every time I attempted it. I made it up the first hill, ran the level part, and began the dip.
The incline coming out of the dip always makes my muscles scream in agony and makes a stop inevitable. Wednesday, though, I lowered my head and started to pray: “Lord, I can’t do this without you. I will never accept this hill as surmountable unless you give me strength right now and help me to endure the pain.” My legs continued at the same pace without faltering, even though the pain was intense. I pushed hard and kept my head low. I was tempted to look up and see how much further I had to the crest of the hill, but that was what always made me stop – looking at the distance and telling myself I can’t possibly make it that far. I decided to keep my head down and started telling myself, “One more step!” It became my mantra, out with every breath. “One more step.” I didn’t look up at all to gauge my progress. I just focused on that next step and before long, I was up and over the hill and beginning to feel the strain on my muscles ease as the road descended back to level ground.
By the time I checked the clock, I was fifteen minutes in and feeling like I just started running. My legs felt alive with strength and I knew then that I was going to make it the whole way. It wasn’t just because of my muscles, though, it was mostly because of my mindset. My muscles would strain again when I hit the bottom of the big hill and had to start running up another. My muscles would scream and ache and resist the forward motion, but I was determined in my heart and mind that I could overcome that pain and finish what I started. I determined not to measure my ability by the distance left to travel but to consider my past performances and persevere in the next goal. The one thing that made all of this possible: keeping my head down, focusing on my God and the next step in front of me.
This is us in life. We face so many uphill battles, sooner or later, weariness and fatigue sets in and if you’re anything like me, you look at the fight left to go and measure it against your strength and throw your hands up in hopelessness. The secret to victory: focus. Don’t focus on the uphill battle. Don’t focus on the seeming endlessness. Narrow your focus to one thing: the face of God. Train yourself to focus on God in these times. Pray. Speak to Him. Ask for strength to endure. Trust in His providence. Trust that He will get you through it as you are faithful to do all that you know to do. Take the next step, and the next, and the next until you are over it and moving along into something else. This too shall pass, they say. Let it. Be strengthened in it. Grow. Press through. Because on the other side of that hill is most likely a brief reprieve and then another. But with the strength you gain from one, you will be less tried the next. You and I both can do all things through Christ who strengthens us.