This five-part series of posts is unapologetically Christian. But, whether you are Christian, atheist, or don’t know what you believe about God, I think you will find in them food for thought and principles for personal growth. There are so many parallels between running an ultramarathon and the daily struggles and joys of our lives.
Wednesday’s theme was Spiritual Balance and Direction (Setting the goal and staying on course)
“The grass withereth, the flower fadeth; but the word of our God shall stand forever” (Isaiah 40:8).
Even though I had studied about the Black Hills 100 course, I had never actually been on that particular trail before. The information said there were some tricky spots and cautioned runners to pay attention to the course markers. There were places where other trails crossed our course. There were places where our trail crossed a road, and we had to find it again on the opposite side. But there were trail markers to keep us on course! Most of the markers were metal tags with the Centennial Trail steer head logo and sometimes the trail number 89. They were fastened to trees and posts. In some spots, there were little pink flags stuck in the ground to mark a turn.
I ran alone most of the first half of Black Hills, but in many other races, I have run for miles with groups of other runners. In one race, I assumed the runners in front of me knew where they were going, and I followed them. We ended up going off course and climbing up a huge hill before I realized we were in the wrong place. Then we had to go back down the big hill and head the right direction. It was frustrating and wasted time and energy. This taught me that I need to watch the trail markers for myself.
Our race of life is the same way. We shouldn’t follow someone else just because we assume they know the way. We should not do things or say things or believe things in life just because someone we know, and even respect, says these things are right. We need to check the trail markers ourselves—the Scriptures! Jesus said, “And whoso treasureth up my words, shall not be deceived” (Matthew 24:39). This is true! God’s Words are the markers on the trail of life. If you set your course by the Word of God, you will not get lost or fall off the path.
There were plenty of trail markers (in most places) at Black Hills, but if I didn’t look for them and pay attention to them, I would get lost. It is easy after hours and hours on the trail to allow your weary mind to become distracted and wander off course.
It is very easy to get off course in life, too. There are so many things vying for our attention. What distracts you from the trail markers God gives us (the Scriptures)? We have the Word of God. We need to pay attention to it! We need to know what the Scriptures say so we don’t wander onto strange paths and become lost.
It takes a long time to cover 100-miles. Before I reached the turnaround point, night fell. How would I find the trail in the dark? No problem! The markers were reflective, so when the beam of our headlamps and flashlights hit them, they lit up. It was actually easier to find the markers in the dark. I simply shined my light around until I saw the flash of a marker. So it is that when we walk through the dark places in our lives, God’s Word will light up our way! His Word will shine even brighter during the dark times. “Thy word is a lamp unto my feet, and a light unto my path” (Psalms 119:105).
Now I want to jump ahead to something that happened near the end of the race. Through most of the race, I struggled with feeling sick to my stomach, which made it impossible to get in the calories I needed. Through the support of my crew and pacer, and the prayers of the folks following my progress online, God gave me strength to keep going.
Finally, I got to the last aid station. My stomach had settled down, and I was actually able to eat. Suddenly, I felt good! I could run again! Off we went—me and Aaron. It was not far to the finish line at Woodle Field now! I had confidence that I really was going to finish this race. But it turned out to be much further than I thought. The last part of the course looped around and around, going up and down every hill in sight. It got to be a joke. Aaron said facetiously, “I suppose we are going to go up that hill over there, too?” Why yes, as a matter of fact we are.
It got dark again. I really didn’t want to turn on my headlamp for a second night, but soon I had no choice. We came down a hill and found a three-way split in the trail, but there were no markers or flagging to tell us which way to go! Where now? I remembered going across a field so we opted to turn right. Soon that path dumped us out into a subdivision. Nothing looked familiar.
We turned around and backtracked. One of the other options headed into thick woods. I was pretty sure that was not the right way. We walked a ways up the third option, which was sort of a gravely path. “Does anything look familiar?” Aaron kept asking me. On the way out it had been daylight. I had been traveling in the opposite direction, and I just followed the flagging and the runners ahead of me. No, nothing looked familiar. We were lost.
Aaron suggested that we backtrack to a point where I was sure we were on the course. I told him I was sure the course went past the small military cemetery on top of the hill. Neither of us wanted to climb back up there, but we had no choice. Back we went. At the cemetery, we turned around and looked to see if perhaps we had missed a turnoff. There were no other turnoffs.
“No one has any idea where we are,” Aaron said, “and we have no idea where we are.” We did not have cell phones with us.
“I think we’d better pray,” I said and Aaron agreed. We sat down on the ground right where we were and prayed for God to help us find our way. Where was Woodle Field?
Moments later, we heard hollering. It was my daughter Elizabeth. I had heard some yelling earlier and thought it sounded like Elizabeth, but we were busy looking for the right way to go and I hadn’t paid much attention. Since we were getting close to town, I had dismissed it as being kids playing out in their yard or something. But this time, I heard the voice clearly. I was sure it was Elizabeth. “They see our lights and are out looking for us,” I told Aaron. We decided he should run on ahead and find Elizabeth.
Thank the Lord that Elizabeth had hiked out to find us and stayed on that hill hollering. Aaron reached Elizabeth and told her I was coming. When I caught up to them, Elizabeth led us back to Woodle Field and the finish line. We had spent about forty-five minutes (and covered two extra miles) being lost.
Besides the Scriptures, God gives us a direct line to Him in prayer. When we are lost in the dark, we can call out to Him. But we must listen for His voice. Sometimes we are frantically trying to solve our problems ourselves when we need to stop, be still, and listen for God’s voice. It was not until Aaron and I were still—when we stopped rushing around trying to find the way on our own—that we heard a voice calling and recognized it. We need to be able to hear and recognize the voice of our Lord when He calls out to us to lead us back onto the right path!
“Thus saith the Lord of hosts, the God of Israel . . .Will ye not receive instruction to hearken to my words? saith the Lord” (Jeremiah 35:13). “Be still, and know that I am God” (Psalms 46:10).
Next time—Spiritual Boldness and Courage (Dare to Do Right!)