PART TWO – ENDURANCE
One of the most well-known endurance sports events is the Ironman Triathlon. Started in 1978, this one day event of 140.6 miles includes a 2.4 mile open water swim, a 112 miles bike ride, and a full marathon (26.2 miles). It is a true test of physical, mental, and emotional fortitude. I encourage you to consider training for one.
While you may have seen the Ironman on TV, you may have never heard of another grueling athletic competition called The Tour Divide. The Tour Divide is a 2,745 mile (4,418 km) annual mountain biking race traversing the length of the Rocky Mountains, from Canada to the Mexican border. Participants ride these miles alone and unsupported. They pack their own food, own mountain bike repair equipment, and own sleeping gear…across the Continental Divide!
Last summer, one of my friends completed this race. His name is Jim Goodyear. You really need to check out his Facebook Page chronicling his experience. After 22 days of non-stop biking, thousands of feet of elevation change, hunger, coldness, carrying bear repellant, relying on strangers, sleeping on the side of a trail, broken gear, etc. Jim finished. He faced enormous physical challenges, mental hurdles, emotional heights and depths, and spiritual tests. Yet he endured.
Sports lovers are thrilled by stories of endurance. We loved watching Peyton Manning return to the Broncos to win a Super Bowl after nearly two decades in the NFL and severe neck injuries and surgery. Baseball history was made when Kirk Gibson of the L.A. Dodgers hit a walk off home run in the 1988 World Series with a hamstring injury in one leg and a swollen knee on the other. Kirk pinched hit in the bottom of the 9th inning. He endured the pain to step up and win the game. Triathletes will never forget the famous “Crawl” when Sian Welch and Wendy Ingraham fought for the final podium place in the 1997 Ironman World Championships. Both women wouldn’t quit and gave heroic efforts. We love stories of endurance.
What Exactly is Endurance?
Endurance is the capacity to hold out or bear up in the face of difficulty without quitting.* It carries with it the idea of mental toughness, steely determination, perseverance in doing right. As my friend says, “it includes learning to be comfortable with being uncomfortable.”
Athletes get that this virtue is needed in any sport. It is needed in practice and in games. There is never a place in sports where this ability to bear up in the face of difficulty doesn’t provide a profit. It is always beneficial. But it is always hard.
The Bible recognizes this ability in athletes. It uses the setting of a race in a stadium with a crowd cheering to encourage people of faith to run their race with endurance. It says it like this:
“Since we are surrounded by such a great cloud of witness to the life of faith, let us strip off every weight that slows us down, especially the sin that so easily trips us up. And let us run with endurance the race God has set before us. We do this by keeping our eyes on Jesus, the champion who initiates and perfects our faith. Because of the joy awaiting Him, He endured the cross, despising its shame. ” – Hebrews 12:1-2
How Can a Person Develop Endurance?
Whether you’re an athlete, a person of faith, or just a human being on this planet, these ancient words teach us how to develop this virtue. These principles work for budding soccer players. They are relevant to the mom trying to raise her kids in a God-honoring way. They can encourage anyone on the planet because trials, challenges, difficulties and opposition are simply part of life. Everybody loves to visit Disney World because it’s the “happiest place on earth.” But nobody ever lives there. It’s a vacation spot, not a home.
Remember the people around you.
There are witnesses to your race. Some of them have gone before you. Some are watching you now. Other will watch as you get older. They are watching to see how you’ll run, but they are also cheering you on. Never forget you’ve got a support crew. Even if you’re all alone on The Tour Divide, God is cheering you on. When I neared the finish line of my Ironman race, I saw my wife, kids, and parents. They were all lined up yelling and smiling and cheering. These were my cloud of witnesses that were watching my race and who were on my side. To endure, remember that there are people who want you to finish!
Get rid of the stuff that weighs you down.
During training, players will wear parachutes to increase resistance while running. Players increase weights in the gym and intentionally push themselves to extremes. Wrestlers will wear full body suits during preparation to make things more difficult. But when game time comes, athletes just wear the essentials. Life is game time. We all need to learn to get rid of the unnecessary stuff of life so we can be successful. Christians especially need to be aware of things that get in the way of their relationship with Christ, then put that stuff away.
Focus on your race.
While life is best lived in community, we each have our own race. We can’t let another’s race distract us from ours. We don’t have to let another’s race grow inward envy. God has given each of us a race, a lot in life. To endure, let’s keep our minds focused on our own race. Let’s cheer others on, but also stay true to the race we’re in. How silly it would be for Usain Bolt to stray from his lane in the 100 meters so that he can grab a javelin and throw it.
Never forget the future joy.
This really is the key to developing endurance. Peyton Manning endured because the Super Bowl was still out there. Kirk Gibson endured because the World Series trophy could still be won. Lionel Messi endures because winning the World Cup can be done. Stephen Curry endures because there’s another NBA Championship to be won. Triathletes endure because there is a finish line in their future. People can endure the most difficult opposition in life because their minds are fixed on a future joy. People who endure are convinced that the future joy will be greater and more long lasting than the current pain and turmoil. Athletes know this well. But, in my opinion, Christians should know this best.
Christians are given a promise from God that they will see Him face to face one day, when God Himself will wipe away every tear from their eyes. They have been given a promise where they will experience no more pain or sorrow, but only eternal happiness in the presence of a God who loves them. I hope you’re convinced of that future joy. If you are not, but would like to, check this out.
So what do you think?
How can you develop the capacity to hold out or bear up in the face of difficulty without quitting?
* A Greek-English Lexicon of the New Testament and Other Early Christian Literature, Third Edition, BDAG.