My legs are sore and I’m still feeling a little hungry after dinner. While this may sound like a common lament during Lent, I’ve a different reason for feeling so. Had the opportunity to participate in the Roma-Ostia half marathon this morning and slightly tired legs aside, it was a great experience. This is one of the oldest running races in Rome and the course takes one from near the middle of Rome to the ancient port city of Ostia, facing the Tyrrhenian Sea. I also found it to be one of the best organised running races I’ve been to so far and though the course wasn’t quite so easy, I enjoyed myself and got to feel and see parts of the city that many would not. Running is a wonderful way of getting to know a place.
The last four kilometres of the run gave me much matter for reflection. Not having studied the route properly and probably having gone a little too fast in the beginning, the gentle slopes in that part of the route seemed less than gentle. As I struggled up what seemed to be never ending slops, I dawned upon me what one learns from distance running. Endurance is one. Endurance means to stay with something, no matter how unpleasant, knowing that there’s something better that will come out of it. In running, it means sticking with something, putting one foot in front of the other and dragging oneself to the end if necessary. The other is faith. Faith in oneself and faith in God who called us to whatever we’re to do, knowing that we’re always given the things and abilities necessary to achieve what we’re called to do.
Endurance is important in times like Lent. Things usually start well and we begin our journey with great fervour. After some time, the fervour wears out and the observances and practices become less interesting and seem burdensome even. We’re called to stick it out, to stay with what we committed to before, knowing that there’s something better to be gained at the end of all that we do. The other thing about endurance is that it builds on itself. The more we are able to endure situations, the better we’re able to do so in the future.
Endurance is not an end in itself. We work on it because we know it works on us. St Paul wrote that endurance builds character and character produces hope (Romans 5:4) which indicates that endurance is a key virtue in the life of humans. Endurance produces hope because through it, we’re not content with settling for situations that are sub-optimal. We see the possibility of something beyond the sufferings of the present but there’s things to be endured in the meantime. Hope bolsters the sense of endurance that we have, giving us the strength to be able to get to where we know we need to.
We endure because we have faith – in the one who gave us the ability to endure and also in the possible fruits of the endurance itself. Faith comes along with the hope that endurance produces. We don’t endure for no reason and it is through faith in the Lord that we can endure. It’s a difficult relationship sometimes – enduring difficult situations when we’ve yet to feel the sense of hope and faith can be disheartening and futile even. But we’re always sure of one thing – that if we’re doing what the Lord’s called us to do, then the hope will ultimately emerge. We just have to stay and wait for it. Endure again.
I’ve been participating in endurance events for a while and at first, it was just proving things to myself – that I could actually achieve things beyond what I (or even others) though were possible. But as one gets deeper into the ‘whys’ of doing endurance sports, a more transformative reason emerges. Beyond just proving things to oneself, there’s a sense of transformation, of sublimating that into a means of engaging with God through the enduring self and of growing in faith and hope as one grows in endurance. Running may not be for everyone but everyone is on their own journey towards the Lord. How are we enduring, staying with the Lord during this season of Lent?