Running through the pain: on (half)marathons and missions

never again  . . . until next time

In my last post I shared some thoughts that I came up with whilst running a half-marathon a couple of weeks back. Well two hours is a long time and I had more thoughts than I could fit into a single post, so I decided to write another one. But this is not about mourning, it’s about missions.

Specifically, keeping on with a mission when you feel like you want to quit.

But I should explain what I mean by ‘missions,’ right? I think about it in three different categories. Let me illustrate from my own life.

In a sense I think of this blog as a mission. Or maybe it’s more like weekly mini-missions. I’ve set myself the task of writing one post a week. I also have a few other writing projects coming and going. These kind of missions have clearly defined parameters: e.g. write a certain amount by a certain date and try to make it not suck.

Then there’s Japanese. I have been for years and the end still seems nowhere in sight. Learning Japanese is definitely not a sprint. But you know what, it’s not really a marathon either. It’s a mission. Some days I feel like Frodo, trudging onwards, knowing every step takes me further into unknown territory where the only certainty is that something will try to kill me. These kind of missions have an end goal, but it’s harder to define and there’s no real deadline: you finish when you reach the level you’re after.

Then there’s my main mission that the others are a part of.  When/if I ever reach fluency in Japanese there will be no great eagles to fly me back to the happy comfort of the shire. Nope, mastering the language is just a smaller part of my main mission: making followers of Jesus in Japan. These kind of missions are life-long. They’re the ‘this is going to be my legacy’ type missions.

So that’s what I mean by ‘missions’ and here’s the thing they have in common with marathons:

Pain.

Not just that they both involve pain. But that you have to run through the pain.

See when you run a marathon, eventually it’ll start to hurt. And once the pain starts, it doesn’t tend to go away. Sometimes it shifts through different parts of your body, but whenever I’ve run a marathon the second half has been a continual battle with pain or some kind.

And with that comes the desire to quit. “If I just stop then the pain will too.” That thought pesters you like a spoilt, and yet sensible-sounding, child. Why keep running, when all it causes you is pain? Why not just quit the race and enjoy some comfort? Stop and the pain will stop.

Except it’s not true. The pain will remain.

OK it will go away, but it will be replaced . . . By a different kind of pain.

The pain of giving up. The pain of knowing that you could have kept going. That you could have done better. The target you were aiming for will remain. And all the training . . . Well that will have been for nothing.

No, the only way to really get rid of the pain is to keep on running. Run through to the finish line, and then the pain will stop (well stairs will hurt for the next couple of days, but after that it’ll stop).

In that way marathons are like missions. You can’t avoid the pain, you have to run through it. Running through the pain is the only way to make it stop. And it’s the only way to make it worth while.

There’s been a few times when I’ve been writing posts and I’ve got fed up with them and felt like throwing them aside. It feels like a waste of time and energy. Even now I’m sat at my laptop trying to bring thoughts together, feeling like I’m attempting to nail jelly to the wall, and wanting to give up. But if I stop now, I’ll have wasted the time I’ve spent getting this far. The only way to make that effort meaningless is to stay on thrashing out a stream of rubbish and sifting through it until I find some words that might make someone’s soul that little bit stronger.

The same is true of my Japanese study. I feel like giving up a dozen times most months. But giving up now would be like dropping out of a marathon at the twenty-mile mark (at least I hope I’m that far). So I keep on studying, some days feeling like my brain is actually melting, but knowing that every painful step is one step closer to the finish line . . . knowing that the way to make the pain worthwhile is to run through it.

And, above all, knowing the smaller missions––whether they be writing assignments, language study, building projects, or just regularly spending time with folk who need a friend ––they are all part of the bigger mission. They are each chapters of the book that God is writing in my life. 

Sometimes the pain involved in these mini-mission feels too much, like how can it be worth going through this much trouble for something so small? But then I remember that running through the pain takes me a step towards completing the bigger mission. The pain is worth it, because people are worth it. That’s my main mission: making followers of Jesus in Japan. Jesus endured the cross to bring me to know Him. He ran through that pain for me, so I can run through my pain to bring others to know Him.

OK as I finish there’s something I need to confess . . . I wrote this post for one person. You know who you are. You probably already worked out this was aimed at you. Anywho, keep running. Jesus runs with you. You will get there. The pain will be worth it . . . And it will stop! (^_^)

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