Here (below) is a picture of a guy who I often see when I go running. I only ever see him for brief moments because he’s so much faster than me— that’s why he’s so small and far away in the photo— by the time I got my phone out to take a picture he was almost gone. You can’t tell, but the back of his shirt says “Absolut Moscow Marathon”.
I love following this guy. Whenever he overtakes me I try and keep up with him for a while. But he’s fast. As you can imagine. Not only has he finished a marathon, he ran it in Russia. Sponsored by vodka. I imagine him trekking through snow and ice and fighting bears while he did it. But today, he’s running my running path. So I’m running alongside him like I’m some kind of Siberian conquerer too. Even after he passes me I try to run in his footsteps and keep his pace— but man, all that bear fighting makes him quick. Most days I really, really want to stop him and ask him how he does it. What’s his training regime? How does he push through the pain? What does he think about while he runs? Why no headphones? How does he keep from slowing down when he’s tired? But I don’t stop him, obviously, because he’s a vodka-sponsored-Russian-marathon-running legend, and he probably doesn’t have time for my questions.
Whenever I see him I think of my grandma. Weird, I know. She’s not a marathon runner— she’s had two knee replacements in the last 2 years for a start. She loves baking and sewing and blessing us with home-cooked meals in her best Tupperware — and although she used to manage a netball club and throw a mean chest pass, she definitely isn’t Russian-marathon-finisher material.
But she is just as awesome. I often stop her and ask her questions about life. About what she did when life was hard and painful and how she pushed through it. How she trusted Jesus when things were difficult. Where she finds her joy when she faces heartbreak, and what she does to stay so full of hope and peace. I watch how confidently and graciously she walks with strength, her eyes fixed on Jesus through it all. She’s a marathon-conquerer for sure, and I want to follow in her footsteps even more than I want to finish a 10k in under 45 minutes.
And not just my grandma’s footsteps either. There are other women who I consider on equal standing with Russian-marathon-runners too- my mama, Carol Contessi, Catherine Mackay, Cath Tallack, Kimberley Smith, Melinda Cousins, Kate Petersen, Ruth Hall, Hayley Eggins, Sharlyn Folkes— not to mention the men like my dad, my grandfather and others too. They’re all marathon-runners, and I desperately want to run behind them, learn their training schedules, how they face and endure the hurts and challenges in life and look to Jesus for all they need. They’re just some of the people I run behind. And even though I’m so slow some days, they stop for me, hear my questions, share their wisdom and encourage me. Some of them even slow their pace to run with me as I learn. And I’m so grateful.
As look around the church, I see plenty of marathon runners. Plenty of older, faithful, wise, bear-fighting (?) conquerors. And, because of where I get to sit in my local church, and in my role with QB, I also get to see a generation of young people running without much of a clue some days about how to pace it out, follow the path and stay strong in the faith. How to follow Jesus for all their days, even when the days are long and hard. We so desperately need people ahead of us to turn back and help guide us.
Social trends and researchers tell us that there is a wide generational and cultural gap between the older and younger generations alive today, and that it’s the same for the western church. There’s a wide relational gap between many of our older and younger congregational members, and I think we’re all worse off because of it. We need those who have gone ahead, who know the road, those who have fought the good fight and know the way through, to turn back and show us how to ‘run the race that lies before us with endurance, keeping our eyes on Jesus, the author and perfecter of our faith.’- Hebrews 12:1-2.
So, if you’ve ever fought a bear, or have run through a Siberian windstorm, conquered a Vodka-sponsored marathon— or if you really love Jesus and have faced hardship and found joy in your life and have wisdom to share— I know there are young people who need your guidance. Who need you to turn back and show them the way. And young people, find the Russian-marathon runners in your church, in your village, in your life, and ask them how they train. Ask them all the hard things, because they can help show you the way. And maybe if they aren’t sure how to help, they might slow their pace to walk beside you for a while. As it says in Romans—
“Those of us who are strong and able in the faith need to step in and lend a hand to those who falter, and not just do what is most convenient for us. Strength is for service, not status. Each one of us needs to look after the good of the people around us, asking ourselves, “How can I help?” That’s exactly what Jesus did. He didn’t make it easy for himself by avoiding people’s troubles, but waded right in and helped out.”