Meaningful Suffering

“I wonder how these people can actually smile after running sooooooooo far,” my sister pondered while watching at the 25th mile marker of the Boston Marathon. “I guess it’s probably because they are so excited to finish!” The unscientific poll of my family and friends estimates that 40% of the finishers are smiling, 50% look to be miserable, and the final 10% just have a dumb look on their face (margin of error is 95%). I am in the half that looks to be suffering because I always try to finish strong, no matter how empty the tank is. All the pain will be worth it as soon as the finish line is crossed.

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According to RunningUSA’s annual marathon report, there has been a 140% increase of marathon finishers in the U.S.40% climb since 2004 (386,000 vs. 541,000). While the majority of these folks have completed a full 26.2 miles before, if the suffering was so unbearable, they probably would not have registered for another race. The numbers would decrease and the “one and done” mentality would prevail. The hand-made “Are we having fun yet?” signs that appear along the race route would prompt a resounding reply of “NO!”

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Runners are not a glum bunch. We tend to be the energetic, squeeze seven miles before breakfast type folks. We generally are joyous and have a zest for life. The proliferation of the themed fun-runs attracts a wider range of participants. My mom and her sisters are in their 60’s and all ran in a Disney Princess race in Orlando. Do “mature women” still enjoy wearing tutus and tiaras? I guess so…at least enough to convince them to get out and train. My friend’s wife loves zombies and trains for races where she either gets chased by zombies or hunts others. She trains, she explained, because “walking dead really should be jogging dead.”

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What is the point of all this? Well, runners are not just suffering, but suffering with purpose. There is a deeper meaning beyond the mere physical exertion. Some run for a noble cause, others for the challenge, and others for the sheer joy. That is why we smile, I suppose. We willingly enter with a clear goal in mind. Meaning changes suffering.

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At times, my effort in the spiritual life has dragged. Prayer has been weak, mindfulness of God’s grace is minimal, and I struggle to find the enjoyment of a deepening relationship with the Lord. At these moments, I merely give it over to God’s grace and remind myself…”try to finish strong, no matter how empty the tank is. All the pain will be worth it as soon as the finish line is crossed.”

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