In June of 2022 I ran Grandma’s marathon. I had been a runner for a while, but I had previously never put in the training needed to make the distance for a marathon, not even close. In October of 2021 I decided that running a marathon would be fun, fun in the way that very hard things often seem to be when viewed through the distorting lens of being many months in the future. And the thing about marathons is that you often need to sign up and pay a registration fee those many months in advance. When I signed up that October I was committing myself. I knew that I would need to train because the marathon was going to happen no matter what. I could only impact the severity of how hard it would be. And so, in those intervening months, I stuck to my training schedule as best I could, including running 15 miles during a snowstorm (which I would not recommend). When June came I was as ready as I could be and during the marathon I felt good about the race that I ran, although around mile 20 I strongly questioned the sanity of past Andrew who in October had signed up for this race.
And then following the marathon an interesting thing happened. The week after the marathon I didn’t run very much, because of course I was recovering. As the summer crept on I still only went on a run now and then, because of course it was summer and we were busy. When fall hit I still didn’t run very consistently, because of course Gwendolyn was starting school and we were getting used to that new schedule. Now we’re in the winter and of course I’m not running much because it’s cold and snowy!
We’re here in the new year and we are at that time when many of us take stock of our lives and sometimes set goals. I set a goal to run a marathon, I achieved my goal, and then I ran even less than before I had set that goal. How many of the goals that we set for ourselves are like that? They are something that we’re striving for, but then when we achieve them there is no lasting change to our lives. I wonder if this approach is what is meant in scripture by gaining the whole word but losing your soul. We can set goals, we can achieve what we set our minds to, we can acquire everything we want, but what is it all for?
I don’t regret running that marathon. I may run one again someday. There is nothing inherently wrong with setting and achieving goals. But maybe this new year is a good time to set some of those goals that are harder to measure but are more impactful. To put it another way, those goals that are oriented toward the soul rather than the world. Goals of strengthening or repairing relationships, of becoming more balanced within ourselves, of being a force of healing in our communities. May we find ways to train toward these goals with the knowledge that unlike a marathon, there is no end to this training.
Grace and peace, Pastor Andrew