Sometimes the start of a new year feels like a blank canvas for battles, losses, and setbacks.
Sure, we all have moments when everything is going according to plan when it seems the odds are in our favor. Often, though, often it feels like you’re walking uphill with no end in sight.
When I conditioned for soccer as a Freshman in high school, we ran a route around a block that was fairly level along the first two streets but then, after the second turn, felt like you were climbing the Smoky Mountains. And, of course, it was the longer side of the block. My cheeks were bright red, I was doused with sweat, panting like a puppy, and everything in me wanted to walk.
As we got halfway up the hill, the captains of the team ran behind us yelling, “Push harder! Lean in! We’re almost at the top!” When I looked up, it felt like we were nowhere close. It felt like the hill was a sadistic extension of the initiation when had a few weeks before. I mean, c’mon. Every soccer field is flat. When could we possibly put this to use?
Life beats us down. Suffering makes us jaded. The older we get, the harder it is to cling to Hope and not fall into the cynicism our culture promotes.
I’ve run many other hills, mountains even, in my life. When I’m in the thick of it, in the middle of the hill, I’ve fallen into despair. I’ve fallen into cynicism. I’ve wondered why a loving God, that could move the mountain if He so chose, didn’t.
“If He brings you to it, He’ll bring you through it.”
“God must have known you were strong enough to carry such a heavy cross.”
Please. Don’t. Say. These. Things. While on my mountain, people tried to encourage me with these Christian platitudes that plaster bumper stickers and, frankly, should stay there.
Sometimes the drift of small trials pulls us out slow, but other times it’s like the entire Appalachian range crashes down on us so abruptly, so seemingly without reason, that we just can’t anymore.
The hardest time to fight for our faith, to preserve our relationship with God, is when we’re in the middle of the hill.
When I trained for a 1/2 marathon in college – not a full mind you, I’ll never be that crazy – my friend that I trained with encouraged me when I was spent to “Just keep running.” Very Nemo like. At first, it felt silly to continue at a slow-run pace that I’m quite sure I could walk faster than. Then, after a few runs of doing my turtle pace, I noticed that the lengths of the turtle runs started to shorten until, eventually, I didn’t need them at all.
Since then, I’ve trained with a few other friends and my husband for halfsies and I encouraged them to do the same. When you’re feeling like there is no way you can run another step, adjust the pace as grandma as you need and just keep running.
Sometimes, when we’re in the middle of the hill, when it’s hard to continue to worship a God that allowed it to be there, maybe we should adjust the pace – different Church, new Bible study, prayer format, etc. – and just keep running,
The existence of hills in our life in no way diminishes the existence of God.
Even Jesus prayed that the cup would be taken from Him, “Abba, Father,” he cried out, “everything is possible for you. Take this cup from me; but not what I will, but what You will.” (Luke 22:42)
He chose to submit to God’s will instead of His own, even when His mountain was dying. And that submission? That submission changed everything.
Maybe, just like when I trained, if we change our pace and press on in a new way or at a new angle, we can better lean in and just keep running.
The thing about hills that makes them feel way harder than they are is that were blocked from seeing the bigger picture, from having an aerial view. Maybe we’d find it easier to submit our will to His, to keep on running, if we trusted that His ways, His view, is higher than ours.
When I was a Senior and led the conditioning for the soccer team, we ran the same route. It was just as awful, but I had learned that leaning in makes all the difference. The best thing about hills? There’s always a downhill, always a chance to gain momentum from the times that you chose to turtle run and not walk.
There’s always a better perspective on the other side of the hill.
What allows you to run the race before you with endurance, encourages you when it feels like you’re on an unending mountain? What gives you hope to lean in?