If ever there were a day this year which would reveal where I find my joy it is today. If ever there were a day this year in which I would discover where I seek justification, it is today, Saturday May 31st 2014.
Why today of all days? Because with 36 days to go until the Gold Coast Marathon, and having run 1200 nearly perfect kilometres in three months, and with the goal in sight, I am crippled by pain with an inflamed ITB (look it up people) on my left knee. 15 kilometres this morning without breaking a sweat tells me I am probably the fittest I have ever been in my life. Except for the excruciating pain in my left knee for those 15 kilometres. Except for the locking up of my knee afterwards – so typical of ITB injuries – in which limping to the car seemed like the last five kms of an ultra. The condition is the result of overuse, and is so common to runners that it is indeed called “Runner’s Knee”. Runner’s Knee is connected directly to the athlete’s heart and downloads pain to that organ faster than a 4G network.
Jill and I have paid our fares, booked our hotel, paid our running fees, planned our itinerary for her to do the half and me to do the full marathon. And now? Now I just may be the most expensive spectator there.
So what has that to do with my joy? What has that to do with my justification? Well, as I sit here, dropping Neurophen like there is no tomorrow, desperately hoping I can book a cortisone injection on Tuesday (just why IS Monday a public holiday in Perth – exasperated Ed), I also know that tomorrow I will get up in my job as a church pastor and exhort people to find their joy in Jesus, to find their need for justification in him. To revel in his justifying of them because of his goodness, kindness and brilliance, not because of theirs. To find it in him, as opposed to anything else, a joy external to circumstance. I will face other people in church and encourage them to not look to things that fade away for their source of joy, but to take Jesus at his word when he says “If anyone is thirsty come to me and drink!” (John 7:37). I never preach a sermon to them that I have not first preached to me. Why would I lead them to a source of joy of which I have no recent experience myself?
The fact is folks, we run to the source of our joy, and now, three years into my running er, “career”, it is clear that for many people that means running to running! I hear it enough, see it enough, and feel it enough myself to see how powerful it is as a sport. And let’s face it, the Endorphin kick is huge. If you are not a runner, don’t give me the old adage “Whoever saw a smiling jogger?” – because the smiles kick in afterwards – and then lingers. Running clears your head, gives you space to think, improves your fitness and lets you get on with life. In other words it is a great servant…
…but a terrible master. If running is your life, the source of your joy, and it is taken away from you, then you are not just down about it, you are devastated. You are depressed. You are desperate to find a way – any way – to get back on the track and chasing down your joy at sub-four-minute pace. If your master demands your allegiance to the point that all of your joy is channelled towards him, then the minute he is threatened, YOU are threatened too!
I have a few other OCD joys in life, one of them is house cleaning (no, really – Ed), hence the bathroom has been scrubbed to within an inch of its life this afternoon – and all on one leg. It’s probably a desire to create a little bit or order in the chaos of my mind. Fortunately no one else in the house is threatening to take this particular joy away from me.
But to be honest, I am feeling encouraged this afternoon too. And I’ve been finding joy in God’s good gifts; a loving, kind and wise wife; two beautiful children; a generous Christian community. And many other things too numerous to mention. But I have determined that they are not the source of my joy. To make them so would load them with a burden too heavy for any other human to bear. They have and will let me down and frustrate me, just as I have let down and frustrated them.
No, instead, I have found that the practice of making Jesus my joy has matured me, especially over the past four or five years. Part of my grief today is that I came to running late, and at nearly 47 realise that if I am going to do a sub-three hour marathon the bus’s engine is revving. But if I am honest, my goal is to reach the end of my three-score-and-ten marathon, spiritually, if not physically intact. By that age I may well have left running far behind (unless I am like old Bob from the WA Marathon Club who I didn’t pass in the recent Perth 32 km race until well into the second hour). If reaching the end of life and hearing (and seeing!) Jesus say “Well done good and faithful servant!” is my ultimate goal, then it’s game on, the race is still being run, whatever the ITBs tell me, whatever the cortisone injection does or does not do.
My name written in the Book of Life – even if its on the last page – means far more to me than my name written on page four of the tiktok race results website come July 7th. Yes it hurts – physically and emotionally – at the moment, and there is still time to repair, but today, May 31st 2014, I am choosing to run to the source of my joy – Jesus.