Enduring Faith

We’ve had plenty of Dursey stories around here, but I don’t know if I’ve shared any Captain stories.

This is Captain.

Captain is my four-year-old Australian cattle dog mix, with whom I have a love hate relationship.

When we got Captain, I was about 100 pounds heavier than I am right now.

Before Captain we had a 16-year-old basset hound that could barely make it down the steps outside, so I was used to casual walks with the dog.

Captain requires a bit more exercise.

It started with walks around the neighborhood, moving up to three and five and even 10 miles. This is us walking by our old middle school in Columbia.

Then he wanted to go faster, so I started running.

Captain and I started out with small at-home charity 5Ks during the pandemic, and worked our way up to regular half marathons just for fun. We had a route around Columbia that was 14 miles, and we did it almost every week. We even did a full marathon distance one Saturday, just to say we could.

I never understood the appeal of running as an end in itself; for me, running had always been a necessary evil, a part of training for baseball, or even punishment.

But Captain loved it.

And in time, I learned to love it as well.

Or at least tolerate it…

I’m not a good runner, by any means. But I’m a runner.

Or, was a runner. My orthopedist has kindly asked me to not do any of that silly stuff any more if I want to have functioning knees.

So now Captain and I run exactly one mile every day, and walk for the remainder of his exercise.

Running, for me, could never be about winning.

I mean, maybe if I stick around long enough I could win a race in the 80+ age group…

But I’m never going to be the fastest out there.

Indeed, only a handful of runners who entered, say, the Cowtown Marathon, have any chance of actually winning the race.

The vast majority of runners simply try to finish the race.

I love this about marathons. Not enough to want to train for one again, mind you, but the fact that all but .001 percent of runners couldn’t care less about winning makes the race about something other than competition.

It makes the race about committing to practice, striving to be your best, and then running at your own pace, perhaps with a friend or a good dog beside you so you can support each other during the tough miles.

Sounds like the life of faith, doesn’t it?

It should.

In today’s letter to Timothy, Paul uses the image of the race to speak about his walk with God.

Looking back over his life, Paul says, “I have fought the good fight, I have finished the race, I have kept the faith.”

I have finished the race.

Notice that Paul does not say that he won the race.

He finished the race.

The life of faith is not a race that can be won. It can only be run.

It can only be endured.

Most things in our life become a competition.

Jobs become climbing the corporate ladder, instead of simply focusing on doing good work.

School becomes about GPA and class rank, instead of simply learning for learning’s sake.

There’s the election going on right now – a zero-sum competition, if I’ve ever seen one.

The baseball playoffs are heading towards the World Series; and will someone please, please beat the Astros.

We are so surrounded by competition that it would be easy to fit our Christian life into that same mold.

We could compare ourselves to other Christians; we could fall into the trap that the Pharisee in today’s Gospel falls into, seeing ourselves as better than others because we check off certain Christian boxes.

But Paul’s words to Timothy tell a different story.

I have finished the race.

There’s nothing about winning in Paul’s summary of his walk with God. There is no way to win this particular race.

There are elite marathoners, but there is no such thing as an elite Christian.

We’re all just regular folks, and God loves us anyway.

If the life of faith – if following Jesus – is not about competition, is not about winning, then what is it about?

Here we can take a page from the marathoners who are just trying to finish the race in a time they set for themselves.

It is about committing to practice, striving to be our best, and then running at our own pace, perhaps with a friend or a good dog beside us so we can support each other during the tough miles.

Marathoners run at their own pace, often running with a friend whose speed matches their own.

In the same way, we follow Jesus together. Not as a competition, but as a team.

We find others whose feet are marching down the same path as ours; we support each other during the tough miles; we take the uphill climbs as one, encouraging each other to reach the top even when we don’t think we can run another step.

And I bet at the finish line we’ll discover that Jesus has been running beside us all this time, too.