I went for a run today, for the first time in way-too-long. The temperature was perfect, the sun slowly sank beneath the horizon line, and everyone littered the streets to enjoy the reprieve from the sun. I’d had a wonderful Bible study, and felt compelled to run. Even though I argued with myself about it the entire way home (“it would make more sense to go tomorrow,” “you have writing to do,” “it will keep you up too late) I eventually allowed myself to put on my workout clothes, tie up my running shoes, and hit the pavement.
I don’t run fast. I don’t run far. My running these days is often in spurts. Four or five minutes running, two walking, three more minutes running, one walking, in a weird patchwork run-walk-jog pattern of my own making. Regardless, I ran. I ran to a nearby park and began the trek around the track. About finished with my first lap, a gentleman came up beside me. I expected him to lap me, but instead he fell in alongside and asked if he could pace me. I said sure, why not, expecting him to dwell there for a time before he’d take off again.
Instead, he remained by my side and we began to chat. He revealed to me that he was a former Marine, served overseas, and was getting back into shape to run an obstacle course 5k. Even though he could have easily outrun me, and lap me multiple times, he pointed out that running with someone was always more enjoyable. He informed me that talking while running actually helps strengthen the lungs (though I would say it was more ‘gasping’ than ‘talking’ on my part), so we talked. I mentioned my brother’s brewery, he mentioned his wife, and his recent graduation. He slowed and walked with me when I couldn’t take the running anymore, and then encouraged me to pick the pace right back up after a rest. I ran further, faster, and longer than I had intended and what was supposed to be an easy round trip mile turned into over two.
Eventually, we parted ways. I failed to make one final lap without stopping, though he still high fived me and congratulated me on the progress, and he said his goodbye and took off running. I watched him disappear down the street as he headed toward what I presumed to be his home, and then I began my own trek homeward, sore but with a happy heart. As I walked, I pondered what it was about the whole ordeal that struck me so, and it boiled down to this: it’s been a long time since I’ve experienced this kind of encouragement.
Weird, I know. There’s been other kinds of encouragement, but there’s something about the outright, blatant encouragement of a stranger that is more touching than the rest. It confirmed experiences I’ve been having lately, where I’m finding God everywhere, especially in my daily interactions with people. The kindness and openness this stranger demonstrated were a rarity in this world and I treasured every moment. He could have left me in the dust, trotting along, puffing and panting, but instead he came alongside me and encouraged me to go a little further and push a little harder.
A mentor of mine quoted a mentor of his, in a strange game of telephone, when he pointed out that the fruits of the spirit are valid whether they come from a faith based situation or not. Charity, joy, peace, patience…these things occur and I believe they are always a reflection back to God. Even if that stranger didn’t know it, he helped fill a cup that’s been running on fumes for the past couple of months and in doing so, demonstrated exactly what I believe God asks of us in our daily relationships.
I think the runner I met was also a solid example of the way God always comes to encourage his people. Whether it was smoke by day, or fire by night, whether he came alongside them when he delivered the Law, or sent his Judges to help bring Israel back to him. God encouraged his people when he gave them a King, and sent them Prophets, and when he sent his only son to walk alongside the people he loved so dearly. He could have lapped us, just like the runner I met could have easily lapped me. God could run circles around us and leave us hopeless and helpless.
Instead, he slows down. He comes alongside his people, his creation, and encourages them onward. One more tree, one more bench, just past that garbage can over there, he pushes us to keep moving forward even when we’re gasping and struggling to breathe. And when we cannot handle it anymore, when our legs are about to give out and we have to stop, he stops. He waits. Not because he has to, but because he loves us.