COMMENTARY: Keep running past the rain, pain, and threats; the prize is waiting

COMMENTARY: Keep running past the rain, pain, and threats; the prize is waiting

“Why don’t we start running to get in shape?” my 15-year-old daughter asked one night over dinner.

Presuming the inquiry was directed at her mother, I reached for another slice of Meat Lover's pizza. I was confident in the fact that with five children at home, I get all the workout I need.

My wife's response was simple yet effective. "Go ask your dad."

“You get enough running with your soccer team, don’t you?” I countered.

In the nick of time, my three-year-old seized upon the reality that pepperonis are shaped like Frisbees. Flying meat-saucers began whizzing around the dining room.

Our "running conversation" had ended for the moment, but I knew it would come back around. I should be prepared.

"It’s just running," I thought. "How hard could it be?"

The next morning I was up by 6 a.m., digging through the bottom of my closet for running shoes. I found a pair (along with several lost Legos and a dozen unmatched Barbie doll shoes). I am not exactly sure of the difference between running shoes and tennis shoes, but the pair I found looked as if they would carry me through the task. I was ready to begin. 

I had not told my daughter we were starting today. I had decided to take a pre-run through the neighborhood on my own, just to get my body ready. I opted to postpone my daily Bible devotion until after the run.

When I opened the front door I was greeted with cold wind and rain that would make any half-sensible dad shut the door and crawl back into bed. My determination was stronger than my sensibility, so I pulled my ball cap down over my eyes and started out.

As my walk sped into a run, I thought that maybe I should have stopped to stretch first. But the weather was awful and I just wanted to get started and get back home. I knew one lap around the block was about a half-mile, so I figured two times around would suffice for the first day.

Before long my breathing became somewhat labored. Then the shin splints hit -- hard. I never realized shin splints are a real physical condition. I thought it was an ambiguous complaint that runners use to conceal procrastination, the way writers use writer’s block. But these pains were very real.

Determined to finish my run, I pressed on, rain and wind pounding me like nails. I thought of the New York City marathon runners. I felt like one of them, sloshing through puddles in the pre-dawn streets, quiet except for my feet on the pavement, plodding toward a dry and comfortable place.

No, actually ... that was not the sound of my feet on the pavement. Rather, it was my heart, thudding right out of my chest, into my brain. Too many slices of Meat Lover's pizza?

I tried to push it all from my mind -- the southerly pain, the northerly thud -- focusing instead on my destination.

That was before I started to focus on the unleashed Doberman in my path. I heard my neighbor from a distance, behind the thud: 

“No, Killer. Down, boy. Heel!”

Maybe in hindsight, it was risky to try to outrun an untethered, bloodthirsty canine, but it was all I knew to do. Run is what I did. I could hear Killer's owner tackling and body-slamming the dog to the ground behind me, but I never looked back.

Finally, Killer was safely in my past, and the rain began to subside. I dropped limp to the pavement, desperate and defeated by a sport for which I had not prepared. 

It was time to head home. 

Lessons learned

I am in no way saying that all Dobermans are mean, viscous, bloodthirsty creatures. (If you disagree, please voice your concerns to the editor of The Call.)

My point is that throughout my "journey," I tried to keep my eyes on the goal, which was the safety waiting behind my front door. Getting there, past the discomfort and diversion, was where I put my energy.

We are reminded of a Biblical truth about not looking back in the book of Genesis. The angels urged Lot and his family to flee Sodom and Gomorrah as it was being destroyed.

“Hurry, take your wife and your two daughters who are here, or you will be swept away when the city is punished.” The angels told him, “Flee for your lives, don’t look back.” (Genesis 19:15-17)

Sometimes it is hard not to look back at what is behind us. Sin is tempting. It whispers, taps us on the shoulder, stirs our thoughts as if to say, “Hey, remember me? I’m still here ... Look back here at me.”

That's exactly what Lot’s wife did, and we know what happened to her: She became a great big pillar of salt.

God's commands are serious. He means it when he says, "Don't look back." The message is clear: Keep your eyes forward if you want to reach your goal.

As Paul wrote in his letter to the church of Philippi: "I press on toward the goal to win the prize for which God has called me heavenward in Christ Jesus." (Philippians 3:14)

The great golfer Tiger Woods once said that he never focused on how he performed on previous holes. All that really matters, he said, is the hole in front of you.

What a great lesson that is for us in our Christian walk today! Forget about the the sandtraps, the double bogeys, the Dobermans that have plagued you in the last 10 holes, or the last 10 miles. Look straight ahead to the goal in front of you today -- while enjoying the beautiful blessings that lie between here and there. 

Your sins and mistakes have already been forgiven. Drop the baggage. Forge ahead through the pain and the rain and the wind.

Don't look back.

The Rev. Michael Vaughn is pastor at Embreeville United Methodist Church in Jonesborough, Tenn.