Michelle McIlroy is a former arts staff member at Camp Fowler, and is currently an elementary teacher and parent of campers.
I discovered running on the soccer field in high school, and soon I was no stranger to the muscles-screaming-to-quit fatigue that requires, more than anything, mental tenacity to push through. During intense college years, running became my release, the way I could drop the baggage that was weighing me down. But if you’d asked me if I liked to run, my answer would have been, “No, I don’t…but I like what it does to me.” Running was a way to get to the greater reward of a peaceful mind and quiet heart, even if that quiet only lasted for a few hours. Ironically, a “quiet heart” is just the opposite of what I got: A few years out of college, a cardiac emergency sidelined me from running for good. Gone was the option of running in the woods, filling myself with the fresh forest air, racing to find fleeting tranquility. Gone was the pride of being a runner. A new course had been set before me.
I’d always focused on this verse in Hebrews as a mantra for marathons: “Ditch the baggage and run the race!” “Press on to the goal!” “Don’t quit when you’re tired!” It’s proof that God loves runners, right? He even gives us our own cheering section—the “great cloud of witnesses.” But when I read Hebrews 11, where the “cloud of witnesses” is identified…yikes. This isn’t a marathon like I’ve ever heard of. My cheering section is made up of people who faced persecution, oppression, rejection, and many who died gruesome deaths at the hands of the world. What kind of cheering section is that?!? Plus, Hebrews 12:2-3 tells us that we can’t even handle this race without looking to Jesus. Jesus, who endured the cross—the shame, agony, and abandonment of the cross—is our champion. That’s who we are running for and guided by: a persecuted man who died in agony like a criminal? This clearly isn’t a race designed by Nike. But Hebrews 12:2-3 shows us just a glimpse of the finish line: he is seated in the place of honor beside God’s throne. Let that sink into your soul. We aren’t running for temporary tranquility, momentary medals, or fleeting fame. This race is about eternal endorsement. If that isn’t worth the grueling discipline required of a marathon runner, I don’t know what is.
My running shoes are gathering dust in a closet these days. I’ve traded running for a physical therapy regimen, battling my body. But God has set this new race course for me, and has allowed me to see my cloud of witnesses with fresh eyes because of it. They aren’t Olympic champions, and it sounds like many of them never even came close to earthly peace. But they were champions of faith, because they never quit the course. Despite struggling to walk correctly these days, I’m running God’s race with endurance and my eyes set on Jesus—the only way any of us can cross that finish line. When I am weary, I have to look to Jesus to find the strength to take another step. If I run this race the way God calls me to, I can join the great cloud of runners worthy of calling Jesus our champion. And that is an honor greater than winning a marathon ever would be.
Prayer: Lord, may we not close our eyes today, but keep them fixed on you. And may our ears hear the din of cheers coming from that great cloud of witnesses, motivating us to keep moving toward your finish line. Amen.
The 2015 Lenten reflections were submitted by staff, volunteers, board members, campers, and friends who have spent time at Camp Fowler in New York.
For this year’s Lent devotions, the days follow the Common Lectionary texts. Each author was invited to: 1.Read the passage.
2.Read a couple passages before and after the assigned day.
3.Do something else for the day, keeping the passage in mind.
4.Find a word/phrase/concept that connects with your own experience. Reflect on that.
You are encouraged to do the same.