We've spent a lot of time in the pool this holiday weekend. Even the two-year-old has joined in the fun, thanks to an outgrown flotation vest passed on to us by our neighbor.
For some reason, I've always avoided things like vests and water wings. I imagined that those devices prevented children from learning to swim on their own, and I took it in stride every time I had to fish my toddler out of deep water. Watching my littlest boy in the pool this weekend, I'm grateful to be proved wrong. Wearing his vest, he loves to maneuver across the pool, looking for all the world like a tiny member of a retirees' aqua-jogging class. He pumps his arms and legs and shrieks with utter happiness: "I'm running! I'm running!"
This is also his cry when actually running. I'm afraid it's a sad commentary on the highly circumscribed nature of childhood in our society today, but whenever the two-year-old is set free – whether in our small backyard or the grassy lawn of our neighborhood playground – he streaks around yelling, "I'm running, I'm running!"
My own attitude toward running has always been very different. Watching someone else run is enough to give me an asthmatic wheeze and a stitch in my side.
Even running as metaphor makes me tired. "Let us run with perseverance the race marked out for us." Just reading those words in Hebrews is enough to send me to the sofa with a good novel and a cup of tea. To write that this verse has always been uninspiring for me is to put it very mildly.
Recently, I heard a similar Scripture read aloud in church, but it sounded entirely new: "Forgetting what is behind and straining toward what is ahead, I press on toward the goal to win the prize for which God has called me heavenward in Christ Jesus" (Philippians 3: 13, 14).
Forgetting what is behind. Straining toward what is ahead. For the first time, those words didn't strike me as another unpleasant item for my spiritual chore list. Rather than a charge to be disciplined, to work hard and push through the pain (ideas that motivate me not at all), I realized the hope contained within these words.
Forget yesterday. Run! There is good stuff ahead. Go and claim it!
The idea of running away from one's problems is rightly suspect. If I've wounded someone, I should go to them. Many of us have also learned that we do ourselves no favors when we run away from grief. However, I'm not talking about running away. I'm talking about running, as quick as we can, right on through.
There are days when I know that this may be my only hope. There are enough mistakes and disappointments in my past to keep me mired in a slimy pit for the rest of my life. I can't clean up the mess, whether or not I made it. Fortunately, I hear Philippians telling me that I don't have to: "Forget about it! Just run! Run for your life and every day you're moving closer to light, to joy, to rest."
Suddenly, running sounds very, very good. I can imagine running with the same joy and exhilaration as my young son: "Lord, I'm running! I'm running!"
Our lives might demand that we keep running the same tedious laps around the schoolyard, but God calls us to "run heavenward," a race that sounds, even to me, like sheer joy. Like freedom.