At mile 14 I got tired. At mile 16, my foot got a cramp that I could not shake. At that point I was quite certain that I was not in the “Happiest Place on Earth,” I don’t care what the brochures and signs say!
You see, in January 2008, I “ran” the Walt Disney World Marathon in Orlando, Florida with a friend. I say “ran” because the last ten miles of this race for me hardly looked like running. (Hobbling maybe, but running – no way.) The cramp in my foot forbid me from taking a full stride, and all I could do was limp toward the finish line.
It was at that point that I began to doubt the wisdom of my decision to run this race. At my now walking pace, I had plenty of time to think. At nearly 3 hours out in the Central Florida sun, I also had plenty of time to begin to hallucinate, and so a conversation broke out between two imaginary figures, one on my right shoulder, the other on my left. On my right shoulder sat Steve Prefontaine, noted Oregon runner and fitness icon. On my left sat someone who looked like me, in my recliner watching Sportscenter and eating peanuts. “You can do it Mark,” Little Steve would shout out. “I want to take a nap,” I would scowl back. “Oprah ran a marathon,” Pre would remind me. “Shut up,” was my quick retort. I guess deep down I knew Little Steve was right, Oprah had run a marathon before, so I thought I should continue on. So, I hopped along toward the finish line like James Caan looking for the front door in “Misery.”
At the 26 mile mark, however, something remarkable happened. A marathon is 26.2 miles, so at that point, I only had less than a half mile to go. I looked up and saw the giant Epcot Center “ball” towering above me, and I knew the finish line was just on the other side, so I started to run. After an additional 3 hours of limping along, my legs hardly worked and I tried to pick up the pace, but with some effort, I was slowly gaining ground and at least looked like I was running. With about a tenth of a mile left in the race, I turned a corner and saw a 100 person Gospel Choir serenading me! Now, the conversation between Little Steve and me in the easy chair . . . that was a fabrication . . . but this 100 person choir, they were the real deal. They were singing the “Hallelujah Chorus” as they swayed back and forth to the music in their white robes. Suddenly, I was a new man. I began singing with them as I literally jumped up in the air and high fived the choir director on my way by. As I turned the final corner, I saw the grandstands filled with about 2,000 spectators cheering me on. At that point, I galloped into a full blown sprint I encouraged the crowd to “raise the roof” a la Kevin Garnett in the NBA finals. Just steps before the finish line I gave the oversized Chip and Dale chipmunk characters a full body hug before slapping Pluto’s hand and crossing the finish line. Tears filled my eyes as I remembered all the training that went into that day and the relief that all that pain was now over. In the end, I was so glad to have persevered to the finish.
I tell you this story today, because in life, many get to about mile 16 and begin to “cramp up” under the stress and strain of this life. Years of illnesses, death of loved ones, fractured relationships, financial struggles, world wars, sin struggles, addiction, and other problems have left us weary and wanting to give up. Sometimes we may even have simple conversations in our heads about the value of continuing in the Christian life. “Keep the faith,” the angel on our right shoulder declares. “Give up and just entertain yourself,” the red suited man on your left scowls back. Even if we do continue to walk with God in this life, sometimes we feel like we are limping towards the end.
If that is you, or if that is someone you know, then remember something: the finish line of this age is even more grand than the grandstands at Disneyworld. Revelation 19:11-21 describes for us the climactic and triumphant return of Christ at the end of the race of life. When Jesus returns, He will return with the armies of heaven riding white horses and wearing white robes . . . and it is a large army! If I thought the “Hallelujah Chorus” was impressive at the Epcot ball, how much more so will it be to see the multitude of heaven returning to earth. Far better than seeing Pluto and the chipmunks at the end, at the finish line of this age, we will see Christ Himself.
As I read Revelation 19, I am struck by the fact that when Christ returns and helps us cross the finish line into His Kingdom, we will be ecstatic. I am sure that tears of joy will fill our eyes as we reflect on the fact that we have walked with Him through many years of “training” and rejoice in the fact that the pain of this life is now over.
If you are limping along in life right now, read Revelation 19:11-21 and remember the finish line that lies ahead. Knowing it is there should give us the courage to pick up our pace and carry on. In the end, we will be so happy that we have persevered.