Who is running your pace?
It was mile number five in my first ever 15K - a 15K for which I (foolishly) did not train. My first half of the run was an easy, light 10-minute mile pace, but I felt too good at the halfway point. I started my run at a slow pace, being ill-trained and having less than sufficient knowledge about my long-distance running pace, but in the second half as I looked around me, I found I was passing other runners fairly easily. These were the same runners who whipped past me in the first half. As I ran, I wished I had a running partner who could steady my pace and maybe even give me a smile every now and again. During the last mile, there was a male runner dressed in head-to-toe highlighter yellow who was running an achievable pace for me. I ran about two yards behind him the rest of the way. Each time I looked up and started to trail, I amped up my speed to match his pace. He made the difference between me wearing out mentally and pushing through to an ending time of 1:25:52. As I reminisce about the race, I realize what a valuable motivator this man was to helping me reach my goal. He had no clue I was using him to keep my pace challenging yet steady, but he served as an anonymous running partner for me. And as I ponder my own life, I realize there are a lot of people - more than I deserve - who have served as pace partners for me in various areas of life. But what I really want to focus on right now is the area in which having (or not having) pace partners has the greatest implication: my/your spiritual life. Spiritual pace partners place emphasis on developing that spiritual part of you - the truest part of you. I am very blessed to have spiritual pace partners who know me well (and I them), who recognize when I am weak, and motivate me to keep going. They serve as my biggest cheerleaders. Let's talk about them!
I spent this past weekend with two of my pace partners. (Anecdote: we call ourselves Tripod.) Just being around them gives me new energy. Each of us are in different life situations: one of us is married and works in fashion merchandising, another is single and works as a hairstylist, and another has a boyfriend and works in the finance industry. Our ages vary by up to 8 years. So what bonds us together? It's the love of Christ. While we all have different stories to tell when we talk, there is always the underlying story in each of us that Jesus is the most important person in our lives. So when we respond to each other, it isn't out of shallow interest but rather deep affection for Christ, and in turn for our sisters in the Lord. When these ladies speak to me, I don't hear shallow motivation to "just do it", but rather ministering words encouraging me to walk the narrow path of righteousness and be the salt and light to the ends of the earth. There's no greater blessing than to traverse this life with your God family; there's no deeper bond than the blood of Christ.
C.S. Lewis, in his book The Problem of Pain, says:
"Are not all lifelong friendships born at the moment when at last you meet another human being who has some inkling...of that something which you were born desiring?"
The backstory to the Tripod is that I prayed for these ladies for a year and a half before I ever met them. I prayed for them when I was lonely and needed friends. I prayed for them when I was enjoying fun experiences with casual acquaintances. I prayed in faith, knowing that God ordained my future friendships long before I was created. It's in His Word:
Ecclesiastes 4:9-12: Two are better than one, Because they have a good reward for their labor. For if they fall, one will lift up his companion. But woe to him who is alone when he falls, For he has no one to help him up. Again, if two lie down together, they will keep warm; But how can one be warm alone? Though one may be overpowered by another, two can withstand him. And a threefold cord is not quickly broken.
This Biblical kind of friendship, at just the right times, can be life-altering. I can recall many times when my closest friends spoke the most poignant words which led me to prayer, and opened my eyes to see what God was whispering to me all along. One of those times was this past week when I was having a very honest - uncomfortably honest - conversation with a dear friend, who knowing my history and childhood environment, attempted to reason with me as to why I often distance myself from my emotions. (Stay tuned for a forthcoming blog...) This friend is the same person whom I hurt by being so emotionless. Instead of warring back at me, as I had done to him, he gently spoke truth from a place of love, and it pierced my heart. Because of his words, I was able to realize how I was letting my past affect my present and future. While I have yet to resolve this issue, I am aware and (in prayer) changing this reality. This kind of life change is only possible with those who will invest in your soul and allow you to invest in their souls.
I am reminded of a beautiful passage about invested love in Timothy Keller's The Meaning of Marriage:
"The gospel is this: We are more sinful and flawed in ourselves than we ever dared believe, yet at the very same time we are more loved and accepted in Jesus Christ than we ever dared hope. This is the only kind of relationship that will really transform us. Love without truth is sentimentality; it supports and affirms us but keeps us in denial about our flaws. Truth without love is harshness; it gives us information but in such a way that we cannot really hear it."
My hope is that each of you will make it a priority to find your spiritual pace partners - friends who will invest in your soul. It doesn't often come by happenstance. You may have to pray for these friends for years or they may be people you already have in your sphere. Regardless, know that whatever you invest into these friendships will be multiplied back to you in the grace you receive at just the right times.