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Persevering to the Finish Line Together

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Last year, my husband and I wanted our three daughters to take on a challenge. Something that would stretch them physically. Something that would pull us together. Something that would provide powerful life lessons and spiritual insight. Something we'd never forget.

We wanted to try a half-marathon. Together.

The girls—ages 14, 13, and 11 at the time—played recreational soccer, which doesn't require much training. So they had never run a distance of this magnitude. But some friends of ours had signed up for the same race with their kids for several years in a row and survived. They inspired us. We wanted to try too.

After running it past our pediatrician (he heartily approved), we presented the idea of a half-marathon to the kids. Our youngest daughter was thrilled—in fact, she wished it were a marathon! Our eldest was unsure she could do it, but was game to try as long as speed was not the goal (it wasn't). Our middle daughter hesitated, but the promise of group runs with her friends provided enough motivation.

It was a go! We paid our fees and bought new running shoes for the entire family. I assured them that, having accomplished it myself the year before, they could complete the distance by race day if they stuck with it and faithfully trained.

I hoped I was right.

Our first family jog consisted of a one-mile loop.

"A mile? We’ll never make it a whole mile!" they exclaimed, overwhelmed.

What had we gotten ourselves into? My husband and I believed that God could use this, but would our family survive 12 weeks of training?

Parents Lead the Way

Their little brother rode his bike with us while I jogged alongside the girls, cheering them on. I made up songs. I invented games. I quoted Scripture. As I jogged, cheered, sang, and paraphrased Hebrews 12, they moaned, groaned, and struggled. But they plodded along. Slowly and steadily, they finished that mile.

But many more miles lay ahead, and they knew it. Sometimes they resisted when it was time to head out on a run, but I insisted they pull on their shoes. They reluctantly agreed. Eventually they logged long runs of three, four, five, all the way up to eleven miles, with my husband or me at their sides.

Finding Strength in Numbers

Some Saturdays we met up with the other family for long runs. Socializing lifted our spirits—when the kids and their friends wanted to quit, they talked each other through those temptations and completed the miles.

On the crisp spring morning of the race, they took the first steps of the half-marathon. After about three hours, our girls did it: each one of them finished the race. With the support of friends and family, step after step, they persevered to the end.

Finishing Well

Along the final stretch, spectators lined up to cheer for those still coming in. Over a loudspeaker, an emcee offered uplifting remarks. When our 11-year-old heard the crowd, she kicked in and finished the final mile at a fast clip, sprinting the last few yards. The others had little left and it was all they could do to walk it. They all flopped on the ground, exhausted.

"Next time you face something you’ve never done before," I later told them, "something you think you're incapable of doing, remember this day. You did it. You finished the race! Remember when you didn’t think you could finish one mile?"

Oh, yes. They remembered.

"It might take time and perseverance," I said, "but don't be afraid to try what seems impossible."

Living Analogy

Years from now my girls may face a seemingly impossible task or insurmountable obstacle. Now they know what it takes to persevere to the end. They carry with them the muscle-throbbing memory of the half-marathon to bring the analogy in Hebrews 12 to life at a personal level.

Therefore, since we are surrounded by such a great cloud of witnesses, let us throw off everything that hinders and the sin that so easily entangles, and let us run with perseverance the race marked out for us. Let us fix our eyes on Jesus, the author and perfecter of our faith . . . (Heb. 12:1-2)

Finding Meaning

The girls can remember the aches and discouragement of training and race day as they meditate on what it means to "run with perseverance the race marked out for us."

They can recall what it felt like to hear cheering at the end of a long, grueling run when they read about the "great cloud of witnesses," those giants of faith from Hebrews 12 who have gone before us, their lives serving as inspiration and examples. The girls may recollect the strength and support of their friends and family, knowing they can lean on others in difficult times.

I hope our kids will grasp deeper life lessons and spiritual significance behind their physical and psychological victory. But will they? Will they recognize that Jesus is the finish line on which we fix our eyes and our companion along the way? Will they see Him in it?

I don’t know for sure, but we continue the conversation.

And we continue to run.

Questions for personal reflection, online discussion, or small groups:

  • What kind of activity or goal could stretch and strengthen your family’s faith, while bringing you together at the same time?
  • How confident are you leading your family to persevere?
  • What can you do to point your family to Jesus in the midst of difficulties?
  • Do you have friends to lean on when faced with struggles?
  • How has your family encouraged one another in the midst of an overwhelming challenge?
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