The message from my fitness program caught my eye as I clicked it off after my run tonight.
“Paul ran 3.99 miles.”
I set out from home tonight with a goal of running four miles. I failed to meet that goal by one one-hundredth of a mile! Only fifty-three feet.
It’s not a moral failing. The four-mile goal was an arbitrary distance, set by an ambitious energetic man, unburdened by the weight of fatigue. It hadn’t come down as an edict from Heaven, with grim repercussions to follow, should the course not be completed.
My decision to stop short was not a calculated one. The last two blocks of my run were spent alternating between gasping for breath, holding my side, and muttering a plea for the voice on my fitness program to announce the four miles already. The need for air and relief from discomfort won out over the desire to meet my arbitrary goal.
Still, I failed.
Tonight, from my comfortable office chair, rested and hydrated, I look at those numbers in the statistics. They mock me.
3.99 miles. Not 4 miles. Not 4.1. Three point nine-nine.
At the speed I was running tonight, it would only have taken six more seconds to reach the goal. Six seconds!
I’ll get over my disappointment with myself. I hope I can do better. That said, this is not the first time I’ve quit before reaching a goal. One would think a fellow would have learned his lesson.
My mind (and heart) has moved on to other things, even as I consider your disappointment in me, just now learning I’m a quitter. You’ll simply have to get used to the feeling. I have.
Tonight though, I’m wondering about how many people have spent a lifetime working toward a goal, only to give up within a stone’s throw of their objective. Tired and disheartened, uncertain of how much further their destination will be, their attention is stolen away by the attractions along the road.
Comfort could be theirs. They’ve never cared before, the reality of their mission imprinted indelibly in their hearts. But now? Now they’re tired—tired and lonely. Everyone around them is inside and warm, safe from the perils of the quest.
I know folks like this. Many glance at the roadside attractions and recognize them for what they are—nothing but bait in a trap. Focusing on their goal and the prize awaiting them, they turn away and go the extra distance, shunning the alternative. Be it fifty feet or fifty years, they will finish the course laid out before them.
But some—some no longer have their attention centered on the right thing. Somewhere, over the years, the focus has moved from the Author and shifted to the runner.
Look at me! I’m giving up everything to participate in this race. I’ve trained; I’ve sacrificed; I’ve put all I have into running.
And, they have. A lifetime of doing what is required of the athlete. A lifetime. But the focus is lost, the goal becomes fuzzy. The spirit begins to hope for other things, other prizes.
The race is lost. The runner is defeated—a failure.
So close. So close, but so far.
Years ago, I read a book called Watership Down. I thought it would be about adventures and battles at sea, but it turned out to be about rabbits. Rabbits. I went ahead and read it. I read it again. And again. You might want to do it someday yourself. It is a story of trial and triumph—a story of perseverance, and of finding home.
One of the long-eared creatures, Hazel, who has become the leader of the ragtag band of rabbits, is leading them to a place most aren’t sure even exists. Throughout the nightmarish journey, he keeps repeating the words not far now again and again. For hours he guides them through the dark, not sure himself of just where the goal will be found, but certain in his heart that the place for which they’re bound is very real.
When they reach their goal, they are ecstatic, admitting that even they weren’t absolutely certain the place to which he was leading them would be there.
They had followed anyway, trusting their leader, even when they weren’t sure of the destination.
How about it? Is the path growing dim, the road harder to make out? Do you have a catch in your side? Are you gasping for breath yet?
Sure, there’s a comfortable stop just over there—a place where others are relaxing and enjoying the evening. We could rest here.
But we haven’t reached our goal yet. That’s up ahead still.
Let’s keep going.
Not far now.
Therefore, since we are surrounded by such a great cloud of witnesses, let us throw off everything that hinders and the sin that so easily entangles. And let us run with perseverance the race marked out for us, fixing our eyes on Jesus, the pioneer and perfecter of faith. For the joy set before him he endured the cross, scorning its shame, and sat down at the right hand of the throne of God. Consider him who endured such opposition from sinners, so that you will not grow weary and lose heart.
(Hebrews 12:1-3 ~ NIV)
I was so tired and confused, I actually began to wonder whether you knew where you were going. I could hear you in the heather saying ‘Not far now,” and it was annoying me. I thought you were making it up. I should have known better. Frithrah! You’re what I call a real Chief Rabbit!
(from Watership Down by Richard Adams ~ English novelist)
© Paul Phillips. He’s Taken Leave. 2015. All Rights Reserved.