I have competed well; I have finished the race; I have kept the faith.
2 Timothy 4:7
Training to run a marathon is not unlike our training efforts towards our eternal reward in heaven. Each Saturday morning, despite it being my day off of work and there is nothing that I must do, I wake up at 6:30 am to head to the corner of Riverside and South Congress to join with a number of other folks to run.
The first few weeks, we ran little. Two miles the first couple of weeks, then three miles, then a huge jump to five miles. The first week, running two miles, was very difficult, much more than it should have been. I had boast to my friends that I ran cross country in high school and while I was not great at it, I could run three miles a day without a problem.
In addition to that, on Monday, Wednesday and Thursday after work, I go home, change into running clothes and hit the trails, sidewalks or whatever surface I’m going to run on that day. By the time I arrive back home, shower, change into something comfortable, it is already 7:30 or 8 p.m.
At first, this was both hard and fun. Once I walked in the door to my apartment after work, I would jump into my running clothes and sprint to the door. Alas, in the time August, my motiviation has lacked some recently.
Now, last Saturday, we ran 13.4 miles. My finance and I had to cut it short from the planned 15.5 miles because we had appointments all day for wedding vendors, but we did not cut it short because we couldn’t do it. We now think of a five mile run as “short”.
At the same however, the idea of running tonight, tomorrow night or 18 or 21 miles in the upcoming Saturdays is now the last thing I want to do. I’ll do it anyhow, but it is not the top thing of my list.
How is this like heaven and our “training” for it?
Prayer and good words should be key to our training. Developing and enacting a solid prayer routine isn’t easy. Time and patience is needed to develop an attitude and habit of prayer. For example, someone who has not spent any dedicated time in prayer probably shouldn’t attempt to start praying every hour of the Liturgy of the Hours with a rosary between Evening Prayer and Night Prayer. If they made it through a day, they wouldn’t make it through too many more.
We have to always push ourselves to the next step though. The training might start with spending a few minutes in silence, reflecting upon the day. Maybe next, we’ll do that and read a parable of the Gospel each night. Early on, we might add a spiritual director to be our coach. Over time, as we become more comfortable with the level of prayer and the energy it takes, we can step up to our next desired level. If we set ourselves to this goal, soon enough, we’ll find ourselves praying each morning, noon and night complete with daily Mass.
With prayer too, we will find ourselves in moments like I am today with running. Despite that early on exercising our spiritual side and nurturing our desire to explore our relationship with God might have been a little exciting, now it might just seem like a drag. It might feel like that, but we can’t let that dictate our actions. Just like running, once you get out there and stretch your legs, you’d be glad you did.
Heaven is the marathon for which we all strive. Unlike the 26 miles of a running marathon that we can lay out on a course and know the exact route, this marathon route is only known to God and in the inner most depths of our heart. We all must set our sights on finishing the marathon, but we have to train ourselves to be able to find the course, run it well and in the end, keep the faith.