By: Pastor Marcio Sierra Jr.
A few months ago I ran the Wisconsin Marathon. This marathon takes place in the beautiful city of Kenosha, Wisconsin, a city on the shores of Lake Michigan with views of the lake that leave you in awe at how beautiful God’s creation is. For several months, I ran for many hours and miles getting ready for the big day, and that day had finally arrived. On the day of the race I arrived at the starting line ready to conquer 26.2 miles feeling like a great athlete.
It was about 6 in the morning when I arrived at the starting line and the temperature was a lot colder than what I was expecting thanks to the cold wind that blew from the lake. In spite of the cold temperature, I made the smart decision to leave my sweater, my gloves, and my hat in the car since I knew that it would get warmer in a few hours and I would not need them then. About 15 minutes went by before I realized that I could no longer feel my hands, my ears were in pain because of the cold, and my body would not stop shaking; by then there were about 30 minutes left before the start of the race. Since I still had an eternity left freezing my body, I made the second smart decision of the day; I started to drink hot chocolate as if my life depended on it; I drank and drank and drank as if there was no tomorrow.
Finally the race started and I ran the first 3-4 miles feeling good and at a good pace. While running mile five, I began to feel a stomach ache that would worsen with each step I took. The pain was constant and it became the focus of the race. Each step I took was a reminder of the problem that I was facing at that moment. I began to wonder if the pain would leave soon or if it would last for the entire race. Each time I had the opportunity to drink water I asked myself if drinking water would worsen the problem. For some time I slowed down my pace to see if the pain would leave, and then I would go faster to see if that would help since running slower did not help at all. About 5-6 miles went by and the pain became an obsession that ruled everything that I thought or did. After running for about an hour and a half, I was feeling tired, other pains emerged on my body, and the race became a nightmare. I could not stop thinking about the pains, how tired I was, about whether or not I would finish the race, etc. All of my thoughts were negative and even my attitude changed from an attitude of excitement for running the race to an attitude of disappointment, anger, anguish, to the point that I even thought that it would be better if I gave up running for good. I got angry at myself, at my running shoes, at the hot chocolate, well; everything bothered me, especially the people who constantly passed me with a smile on their faces. The bad thoughts, the negative attitude, and the problems took control of my life at that moment and for over two hours. I did nothing else than complain for everything and to see the bad in everything.
When I reached mile 18, after running for about three hours, I look to my side and I was impressed because of the beautiful scene that was before me; it was a “Kodak moment.” Lake Michigan had an impressive blue color that would not allow you to tell where the lake ended and the sky started. The sun, painted with a strong orange, was rising over the lake and making its light fall over a part of the lake that caused the lake to radiate with a shine that I had never seen before. There was a group of Canadian geese that flew in a perfect V on a beautiful blue sky with a single small cloud that looked as it was intentionally placed there just to add a beautiful detail to that breath taking work of art. As I followed the flight of the geese, I noticed that the moon was still up and continued to be part of the beautiful scenery. The trees, which were filled with new life since it was spring and the leaves were starting to blossom, seemed as if they were dancing to the beat of the wind that moved them from side to side. At that moment, God spoke to me and put a thought in my heart, “even in the midst of the problems, there is always something beautiful that shows the glory of God and can cause you to smile.” When God impressed that in my heart, I was reminded of the fact that this race, which up to this point had become a nightmare, was known as one of the most scenic races, surrounded by beautiful views throughout the majority of the course of the race. For 18 miles, almost three hours, I did not pay attention to the work of art that God had painted for my enjoyment. My focus was on the problem, on the pain, on how tired I was, on all the negative things that were happening and had blinded me from seeing all the good and beautiful things that surrounded me. Those 18 miles that could have been three great hours to admire God’s beautiful creation had turned into something ugly and negative due to the wrong focus that I decided to take.
It was then when I decided to change my focus. I was not longer going to focus on the pain, the problem, how tired I was, but rather, I would place my focus on the beautiful things, that even in the midst of the struggle, showed me God’s glory and caused me to smile. By that time, I still had 8 more miles left, more than one hour of running. I was still tired and the truth is that the pains continued, but all those feelings were no longer the focus that controlled me. Even in the midst of the struggle and the pain, I was able to run the rest of the race joyful, encouraged, and with a smile on my face, enjoying the good and beautiful things that God had placed around me. That race that started as a nightmare ended up being a beautiful race full of God’s glory thanks to the decision that I made to change my focus. God says in His Word, “Finally, brethren, whatever things are true, whatever things are noble, whatever things are just, whatever things are pure, whatever things are lovely, whatever things are of good report, if there is any virtue and if there is anything praiseworthy, meditate on these things.” Philippians 4:8. This is the key to run the race that we all have before us. We cannot live our lives focused on the problems and circumstance, we need to focus on the good things that God has given us and enjoy the race even when it is difficult.