I really enjoy stories about journeys because I can very easily relate to them and find wisdom and courage for life through them. There are a lot of wonderful journey stories, but today I’d like to focus on just a couple and what I learned through them.
Years ago, I came across a fictional story called Flanagan’s Run in a Reader’s Digest Condensed Book. The story took place during depression-era America. A notorious huckster, Flanagan, planned a marathon footrace from the west coast to the east coast with a glittering jackpot prize at the end. Two thousand hopefuls lined up at the starting line from every walk of life and all ends of the globe, each with a different reason for entering the race. Some wanted to prove themselves physically while others simply wanted money to feed their families. As they ran themselves ragged across America, they came up against numerous hazards, including the steep Rockies, shady mobsters and crooked officials. During the race, unofficial alliances formed between groups of individuals who gave advice and encouragement to each other. The story focused on the characters of one such group headed by Doc Cole, an older man who had experience running marathons. He advised the less experienced members of his group on how to care for themselves physically and how to pace themselves so they could finish the race. Yet, there could only be one winner of the race so although they helped each other across the country, they each had to run their own races.
Whenever I read the book, I’ve pondered that it is important to form “alliances” in life to help us through the tough places. We need each other, none of us can make it alone. We need to encourage each other, to give hope, to help a fallen friend regain his footing. However, we also each must run our own race. No one can live life for us, no one can make tough choices for us, no one can cling to faith for us, no one can really make us happy, We must run together through life, but in many ways we also run alone.
Another journey story I enjoy is my own. Since I was a child, I have always loved to go on walks with my dog. One summer several years ago, I began to walk for longer and longer distances with my dogs. At the time I had two dogs: Danny and a lab mix named Jake. At first, I walked one mile, then two, then five…every day I challenged myself to walk a little further. EJ began to encourage me to just keep walking every day through the summer to see how far I could walk. He said that when I got tired, I could call him on my cell phone and he’d pick me up. If I noticed that the dog I was walking was growing tired, he would drive to me and exchanged dogs, taking home the tired one and handing over the replacement. EJ was my support team. My walks that summer became my challenge, my test of endurance, my epic journey. I discovered some important things during that summer.
I learned that I needed to have a goal to reach. If I didn’t have a goal, I’d stop as soon as I got tired. A goal kept me going, pushing and challenging me. My goals kept expanding. As I reached one goal, I set another greater one.
However, I also learned that I had to have little goals as well. Sometimes the big goal seemed too unreachable. The hope that I could reach my goal faltered a bit when I got tired or my feet hurt. So I’d set smaller goals,, focusing on making it to the next road or tree or mailbox. I’d focus on taking a step, and then a step, and then another step. I could always, always take one more step. Little steps helped me reach big goals.
I also learned that if I woke up in the morning and felt that I just couldn’t reach any goals then I might as well stay home. Journeys–and battles–are begun and won in our minds and spirits. If I didn’t believe that I could reach my goal then I really couldn’t reach it. If I believed that no matter what challenges I faced or how tired I got, I was going to persevere, then I really could.
The hardest day for me was the day I decided to walk to the church we were attending, which was 9 miles away. The weather report said that the temps would be cool, so I dressed a bit warmer–too warmly it turned out. Being too hot drained my energy, but I kept walking, taking one step and one step and one step. I was determined that I would reach my goal. Several miles into the journey, I thought, “I can’t do this. I really can’t do this.” So I called EJ, “I need you to pick me up.” Rather than sit down along the road and wait for him to pick me and my dog up and take us home, I just kept walking. EJ didn’t come, and he didn’t come. I starting getting irritated with him–“I’m tired. I an’t do this. When is he going to pick me up? “Then I felt furiously desperate. “WHERE IS HE? I NEED HIM!” I kept walking. Then suddenly I noticed that I was getting closer to the church. “I hope he doesn’t come quite yet,” I thought. And I was almost there. “PLEASE EJ DON”T PICK ME UP, I AM ALMOST THERE!” I mentally begged him. I turned into the church parking lot. I had made it! I entered the church, refilled my water bottle, and drank deeply. Then I called EJ and I sat and waited for him to pick me up. When he arrived at the church, he told me he purposely had not come for me because he knew that I really didn’t want to give up, that I really wanted to make it to my goal, he believed in me, and he wanted to give me a chance to succeed. I said, “THANK YOU!” Walking to the church was a battle I was able to win. The next day I walked the 10 miles to the next town with no trouble at all, I ended up walking 12 miles that summer.
The struggle to the church made me ponder that God NEVER arrives too late to help us. Perhaps when it seems as if God is too late, He is actually helping us reach a goal, and to win battles that need to be won. Perhaps He is helping us attain a victory rather than a defeat. I mean, it’s like the story of Lazarus in the Bible. It appeared that Yeshua (Jesus) delayed too long and arrived too late to heal Lazarus. Lazarus died. However, Yeshua’s delay set up the awesome miracle of the resurrection of Lazarus. It’s just a thought.
I have pondered that all long journeys have certain challenges that must be overcome. Sometimes we get to travel through pleasant places. However, other times we must overcome difficult terrain: dry deserts, high mountains, flowing rivers, deep canyons. The weather also has a big effect on travelers. Sometimes the weather is pleasant, making the journey a delight. However, other times the sun beats down unmercifully, or the storms rage over our heads, or the cold freezes our bones, or deep snow drifts hinder our progress. Then there are the personal challenges. We have to overcome hunger or fatigue, discouragement or fear, diminished hope or faith. Finally, there are the people we encounter along the way. Some are encouraging and helpful, giving us strength to continue. Others make the journey more difficult.
I think we face the same sort of challenges through life. The terrain of our circumstances are always changing, sometimes pleasant, sometimes routine, sometimes difficult. Then there are the storms that rage around us, the merciless problems that beat down unceasingly, situations that chill us. We have to struggle with personal fears and discouragement that tell us we can’t make it. Then there are people we meet along the way. Some strengthen us with their love and support while others wound our spirits or whisper discouraging words that tempt us to despair.
Some people seem to believe that if a person has strong faith, he will walk through life in joyful ease. However, I think that no matter how strong our faith is, no journey is easy. All epic journeys change the travelers as they persevere and overcome the challenges. I keep epic journey stories in mind when I face difficult life challenges.
Bilbo Baggins: …Can you promise that I will come back?
Gandalf: No. And if you do… you will not be the same.