by Joanie Butman
Analogies of marathon running and life have been drawn as far back as St. Paul, and with good reason. Life is a marathon – the only one most of us will ever run. As I watched the New York City marathon last weekend, I was reminded once again of the similarities. The runners came in all shapes and sizes with personalities of all kinds: serious, playful, anxious, joyful, and even a zenful one running barefoot in monk-like attire. The variety of languages spoken amongst the runners and the spectators rivaled the Tower of Babel.
The diversity was a beautiful thing to witness. Everyone was running the same race, but each with their own distinct style and pace. Some wore costumes, elaborate native American headdresses, and many wore shirts honoring a cause or a person. The most inspiring were those with disabilities who chose not to let their challenges prevent them from participating: artificial limbs, blindness, wheelchairs and hand cycles abounded. I was amazed as the sightless ran completely dependent on their guides to keep them on course.
While I admire the runners for their discipline and endurance, I was even more impressed with the massive amounts of people on the sidelines. Being a spectator at the NYC marathon requires a herculean effort of its own sort. Especially notable were the ones who didn’t even know anyone in the race yet showed up simply to encourage strangers. They, too, had their own styles. Some were quite loud while others quietly waved and offered thumbs-up to the passing throngs. Many brought bull horns, cow bells and motivational signs with messages hoping to provide a needed boost. My daughter informed me that if a runner puts their name on their shirt, it’s so people can cheer them on personally. I found myself enthusiastically calling out to strangers by name or “Vive la France” as French runners passed. On the sidelines you are free to be as embarrassing as you’d like. In fact, this was one instance where my daughter appreciated my flamboyance as it made me easy to spot – along with the neon orange I chose to don for the occasion.
I thought of all the encouragers who have shown up in my life at just the right moment to spur me on during a rough patch, mentor me in training of all sorts, or simply travel alongside me in companionable silence. Some of the most endearing moments in any race is when a runner falters and another stops to lift them up, get them going again or help them cross the finish line. And so it is with life. While most of us don’t necessarily have the athletic ability or desire to run a marathon, we can all choose to be encouragers. It could be as simple as a smile. No grand gestures, no expensive gifts, no attention to oneself – just helping or encouraging someone else for the pure joy of it.
The reality is we rely on each other as we navigate life. We are designed to live in community. The support and encouragement of others makes the burdens of life lighter and the joys that much sweeter. We’re all runners in the race of life. Why wouldn’t we want to encourage and cheer each other on? We don’t need to know anyone’s name to offer our own stories as gifts of comfort, inspiration or encouragement for someone walking (or crawling) the same road. It’s humanity at its finest.
We all enter the race alone but that isn’t meant to be a permanent condition. Those who run alongside us will vary day-to-day. Sometimes we will know them, sometimes we won’t. Christ is our biggest cheerleader, the one steadfast companion we can always depend on for comfort, strength and endurance. He is our Divine Guide, directing our path when it feels like we’re traveling blind. When we choose to keep our focus on Him, we can run with perseverance the race marked out for us. With Him, we can all be winners. On whom or what do you choose to focus?