I have a love-hate relationship with running. Typically, I jog two to three miles several times a week, but by no means do I consider myself a true “runner.” Running with a jogging stroller is brutal; nevertheless I push through it and manage an average pace of 11-13 minutes per mile, depending on the day. Pitiful, I know. My best girlfriend is a natural-born runner. She can run long distances at a quick pace without ever doing any type of training. That is definitely not me. Before I began running, this same friend asked me for years to run with her. “I am not a runner!” I’d exclaim, to which she’d reply, “Anyone can run. All you have to do is train.” After much hesitation, many eye rolls, and a lot of excuses I finally agreed.
We began running together, short distances at first, gradually building up to longer and longer distances. It was hard, and there were times when I felt it was no longer worth my time and effort. But one day, when I was ready to give up and throw in the towel, my friend shared the secret to her running success. I can’t remember her exact words, but they went something like this: “When I want to give in, I just start thanking God. If my legs are burning and about to collapse underneath me, I thank Him that I have legs to run on. If my lungs are tight and I can’t get enough air, I thank Him that I have lungs in the first place and that He supplies me with air to breathe.” The Holy Spirit’s conviction through her words caused me to adjust my poor attitude towards running, and I must say, heeding her counsel has allowed me to run distances I never thought possible. When my body feels like it’s going to fail me (as it often does) I immediately start thanking the Lord for everything around me, in me, and on me: A breeze in the air that keeps me cool, the heart beating in my chest that keeps me alive, and the shoes I’m wearing that protect my feet. On hot, humid days in the Texas heat it sometimes seems there’s not much to be thankful for, but it’s amazing how many blessings I find when I peel my eyes off myself long enough to look around me. During the hard times when I feel I can’t go on, I focus on just reaching the next tree or the next park bench or the next street light, all the while thanking God for the ability to get there.
Then one day it occurred to me: Why don’t I treat all of life this way? Too often I grumble and complain when times get tough. I don’t honor God or give thanks to Him as I should. I exchange the glory of the immortal God for idols: my comfort, my happiness, and even my laziness (Romans 1:21-23). What if instead of complaining about my circumstances I started thanking God for them, even the ones that seem hopeless? Rather than focusing on my troubles and trials, what if I lived a life of gratitude, praising God and thanking Him for all the blessings in my life? What if I was grateful to God for what I do have instead of complaining about what I don’t have? I pray that I’ll be someone who discovers an “opportunity in every difficulty rather than a difficulty in every opportunity.”
God is gracious to have sent me a friend who helped me learn to endure long runs, not only when I’m physically running, but also in the race of life. May each of us never cease to “give thanks in all circumstances” (1 Thessalonians 5:18), knowing that “the God of peace himself [will] sanctify [us] completely… He who calls [us] is faithful. He will surely do it” (1 Thessalonians 5:23a, 24).