The Very Last Marathon Runner

Years and years ago, before I moved out of my parent’s house, I watched a marathon on television.

Actually, I don’t remember if I watched the whole race. I only remember one scene.

The very last runner in a marathon was approaching the finish line. It was night. I suspect the other runners had finished their races hours before. I don’t remember if any of the crowd was still around to cheer this runner on. There must have been a few because the cameras were capturing her ordeal.

The runner was so beyond exhaustion that she was staggering, stumbling, and weaving across the road. At some point she had lost control of her bowels and she had soiled herself–probably more than once. She seemed barely coherent.

She was an utterly pathetic mess.

I thought she was amazing. She is more inspiring to me than all the runners who had crossed the finish line before her because even when she had no strength left, she didn’t quit. She ran on sheer guts, determination, and endurance.

She is an example to me of courage and faith.

I am an INFJ personality type. INFJs are described as having uncanny insight into people and situations. We “readily grasp the hidden psychological stimuli behind the more observable dynamics of behavior and affect. We have an amazing ability to deduce the inner workings of the mind, will and emotions of others…We see two people in everyone: The public persona, the outer shell, which everyone else sees but also a deeper sense or impression of people, penetrating appearances and revealing hidden motives and intentions.”

I shared that as a preamble to the fact that I am going to make some generalizations about what I’ve observed about people. However, I think people are deep and complicated so we have to be careful about generalizations which can be too simplistic and tell only part of a story. Because I am a personality type who has insight into people and situations, my insights might be worth considering, but because they are only generalizations, I also think they don’t tell the whole complex story of who people are.  I just want to make clear that I am aware that these are generalizations.

I often see a disconnect between what people say they believe and what they actually live out. I think this is true of everyone. EVERYONE has knowledge of things that they don’t yet practice. In a way, growth is both a  journey and a destination. We first must be aware that a place exists before we can try to get there. When we try to become something we aren’t yet, we are reaching for something that we don’t yet have. Therefore, we live in a state of disconnect between where we want to be and where we actually are. However, the difference between someone who is genuine and someone who is a hypocrite is that the genuine person is aware and honest about the fact that he doesn’t yet practice what he is striving to become while a hypocrite pretends that he already has it or is it. A genuine person will put effort into changing himself while a hypocrite will put effort into maintaining appearances.

When JJ was younger, we watched Disney’s The Hunchback of Notre Dame together. We discussed the question of “which is the monster and which is the man?” Is the monster the one who looks like a monster or the one who has a monstrous character? Shortly after we watched the movie, we went to our local party store and I gave JJ money to give to the new cashier, who had obviously been in some horrific accident because his face was twisted like a Halloween mask and he had a hook for a hand. JJ bravely gave the money to the man who took it with his hook. As we walked home, he asked about the man and I explained again that how a person looks isn’t necessarily a reflection of his character. We need to judge a person on who he actually is rather than how he appears.

Larry Crabb, in his book, The Safest Place on Earth,  wrote, “We often hear that brokenness is the pathway to a deeper relationship with God, but we rarely see it modeled. I sometimes think we want others to believe we know God by demonstrating how unbroken we are…Worse, in many eyes, to admit brokenness means to admit a poor relationship with God. ”

I believe this is true. At some point, even though many Christians will talk about brokenness and vulnerability, in actual fact if a person reveals that he is discouraged or tired or upset, or in any way struggling, many perceive him as being weak in faith rather than strong. It’s possible that the person doesn’t have weaker faith, he just is more honest.

One woman I knew said she didn’t think Christian leaders could reveal struggles and weaknesses because it would “lead people astray and cause them to stumble from the faith.” I know many feel that way, but I think that’s arrogant and deceptive and models hypocrisy. The Bible itself is very honest in its description of people, revealing both strengths and weakness. I think people are helped more by genuineness than pretenses of perfection and that God often works through people in ways we’d never imagine.

Years ago, when JJ was very young, I suffered from chronic sinus problems as well as Chronic Fatigue Syndrome. CFS is a debilitating illness. A normal person can work hard and then quickly bounce back after they rest. A person with CFS is like elastic with no elasticity. They don’t bounce back. On my best days, I could cook meals and do light housekeeping. On my worse days I would wait for EJ to get up for the day and then go back to bed. One day at church, a man (who didn’t know me well) told me that a husband needs a strong wife and I was not being strong. He felt I was arrogant for not praying for healing. I went home and wept. He had no idea the strength and faith it took to get through each day. Appearances can be deceiving. What he assumed was weakness was actually strength and faith.  I believe that sometimes God heals and sometimes He doesn’t–it all depends on what He wants to accomplish in a person’s life. It takes great faith to believe God can heal, but I think that it takes as much faith to trust God through a difficult situation. I believed very strongly that God had something very important for me to learn through the illness so I did not pray for healing. I learned to trust God for strength for the moment, to praise Him in the midst of suffering, to deal with deep-rooted fears (of not being good enough), and to comprehend His love at deeper levels. On the outside my faith might have looked weak, tired, and messy but God was actually strengthening and renewing me on the inside. There came a time when God suddenly moved multiple friends to start praying for me and then He healed me, which was awesome, but I think the greater miracle was what He did within me during that time.

I think that genuineness forges a connection of understanding between people. Not only can I more easily talk to people who are genuine, but I have found that people are drawn to me when I am genuine. I can’t count the number of times that people have said, “I came to you with this problem because I know you have suffered/struggled with this and I know you understand.” I agree with Larry Crabb that “Everything in spiritual community is reversed from the world’s order. It is our weakness, not our competence, that moves others; our sorrows, not our blessings, that break down the barriers of fear and shame that keep us apart; our admitted failures, not our paraded successes, that bind us together in hope.”

I also believe that not everyone who says he’s a believer is actually one. In 2 Timothy 3, the Bible says that in the Last Days many will “retain the outer form of religion but deny its power.” In other words, they will appear to be what they are not. I have met people who genuinely love God, and I have met those whose spiritually was merely a pretense–who appear flawless, who teach classes, lead groups, say all the right things at church but then go home and abuse their families. True spirituality isn’t this way. I understand that there are reasons that a person might not reveal every detail about certain situations publicly. However, I do believe that the more closely a person walks with God, the less pretense is in his life.

Photo from Pinterest
Photo from Pinterest

I started this post describing the very last runner in a marathon race. If she was to stand next to the winner, she would appear to be the weaker of the two–a pathetic mess. But was she? The winner obviously had more physical strength and stamina, but I think it took  a great deal more inner courage and strength and determination for the last runner to finish the race. And who knew what other obstacles the woman had to overcome in order to run? Her strength inspires me.

Adonai doesn’t see the way humans see — humans look at the outward appearance, but Adonai looks at the heart.” (1 Samuel 16:7)




2 Comments on “The Very Last Marathon Runner

  1. You are so very spot on. If someone professes to be Christian and thinks they have to pretend perfection or superiority in what they call a sign of strength, then I would say they have not really studied the Bible much. Great post.


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