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.
Thursday’s theme was Spiritual Boldness and Courage (Dare to Do Right!).
“Say to them that are of a fearful heart, Be strong, fear not; behold, your God will come . . . and save you” (Isaiah 35:4).
In order to talk about boldness and courage, we need to talk about fear. I will admit I had some fears concerning this 100-mile race. I was afraid of failure. What if I couldn’t finish the race? I was afraid of the pain. Having run quite a few ultramarathons, I knew there would be pain involved. But the big thing I was afraid of was mountain lions.
Let me explain. When I was a child, I was very close to my Grandma Hoffman. She lived near us for all of my childhood and lived with us for several years (which I thought was great!). My grandma was born in 1897. She grew up in the mountains of Idaho, and her family raised sheep. They took the sheep up into the high mountain pastures in the summer and brought them down into the valleys during the winter.
When you raise sheep in the mountains, you will encounter mountain lions. Grandma knew how to tell a story, and many of her stories involved mountain lions jumping off of bluffs and attacking. So you see, I grew up being afraid of mountain lions, only it was never a problem since I live in Missouri. But now, I was going into mountain lion territory.
I researched mountain lion safety rules: 1) Don’t run alone. 2) Don’t run at dawn or dusk, because this is when mountain lions are most active. So right off, I was going to be breaking the two main rules of staying safe in mountain lion country. Since the race started at 10:00 a.m., I knew I would be running through the dusk and into the night alone.
The safety rules also said small adults and children are higher risk to be attacked. Most people would classify me as a small adult. Another safety factor out the window for me! The scary thing about mountain lions is that you usually don’t know they are around until they jump on top of you, so carrying bear spray would probably not be much help.
I read that you should try to make sure the mountain lions know you are not a deer. I came up with a plan. I would wear a blinking red light on my back, plus my white headlight and flashlight, and I would play music out loud on my phone. (I collected a great play list of Christian music.) Surely all these things would say, “I am not a deer! Don’t try to eat me!” Also, I started praying well in advance of my race that God would protect me from mountain lions, but honestly, I was still pretty scared about them.
Fast forward to the middle of my race. About 7:30 p.m., I was leaving one of the aid stations. My crew asked me if I wanted to pick up my headlamp, flashlight, and phone (for music). Instead of playing it safe, I decided to just take my flashlight and get the rest at the next aid station. I did have them clip my blinking red light on the back of my pack.
It turned out that the next section of trail was some of the roughest on the course. And it got dark earlier than I thought in the forest. Before I knew it, dusk was falling. It wasn’t dark enough for my flashlight to show up, and I didn’t have my music to play out loud. My unreasonable fear of mountain lions kicked into high gear.
Of course, I was praying—a lot! I talk to God frequently in my everyday life, and I talked to Him even more during this long and difficult race. I needed His help and His strength to make it through. I needed His protection—and at that moment, I needed Him to help me overcome this fear!
What was I going to do? I could turn back to the last aid station. Or I could trust in God’s protection, face my fears, and go on. I chose to go on—praying mightily that God would tell those mountain lions not to eat me!
No other runners were in sight. It was just me and the wild critters. Feeling a bit foolish, I resorted to clapping my hands loudly every minute or so for about an hour as I ran through the twilight. I didn’t see any mountain lions, and I didn’t get eaten either.
What are your mountain lions? What are you afraid of? Fear will come to all of us. We will have to walk through the dusk where mountain lions live, but we can choose whether we hold on to fear and be paralyzed, or throw it off and move forward. The truth is that safety is not the absence of danger, but the presence of God. Fear is a LIE from the devil. Lies are his specialty. That’s why he is called the father of lies. He is very good at tricking us into believing his lies—and fear is one of them.
What does God say? He commands us to“FEAR NOT! Be of good courage! Be bold!” God is serious about this don’t-be-afraid thing. He tells us not to fear at least one hundred fifty times in the Bible. Fear comes from listening to the lies of the devil instead of believing the promises of God.
Of course, you have to KNOW the promises of God before you can use them to get rid of fear, and to be bold and courageous for Him. Remember all the reasons we should not be afraid: God is all powerful (1 Chronicles 29:11). God loves us (1 John 4:10-11). God promises never to leave us alone (Hebrews 13:5). God promises to care for us (1 Peter 5:7). Does that mean that if we trust in God, nothing bad will ever happen to us? Of course not. The scriptures tell us that we will have trials in this life. Jesus said, “In the world ye shall have tribulation; but be of good cheer; I have overcome the world” (John 16:33).
This life is the race. During the race, there will be steep hills and low valleys; there will be pain. There will be hot days and cold nights—and mountain lions. Let us firmly hold onto the promises of God and move forward boldly and without fear toward the goal of His Kingdom!
We can expect difficult times in this life, but because of what Jesus did on the cross, we need not fear. He is ever at our side, and we have a way to eternal life, where there will be no more pain or tears or sorrow. This is where we find our hope and our peace—moving forward boldly with our eyes on Jesus and our minds set on the finish line.
“There is no fear in love; but perfect love casteth out fear; because fear hath torment…” (1 John 4:18 ). “Be strong and of a good courage, fear not, nor be afraid of them; for the Lord thy God, he it is that doth go with thee; he will not fail thee, nor forsake thee” (Deuteronomy 31:6).
Next time—Spiritual Diligence and Endurance (Never Give up until the Race is Won!)