they moved the finish line again (if there even is a finish line?) Actually, the finish line has been moved so many times in the past eleven months that I fear I have lost sight of it for good. (if indeed it ever was in sight to begin with) But then I remember when the end was in sight. The end was in sight at the beginning of this race. How’s that for irony?
That was when this race was a sprint and we were to give it all we had to give. (that’s how you run a sprint – all out) And as good Americans we did, we gave our all. We all gave our full compliance for two weeks to “flatten the curve.” For some this meant shutting down their livelihoods, their source of income to provide for their families. So restaurants, gyms, salons, barbershops, movie theaters, clothing stores, book stores, all retail shops, schools, churches, business offices, sporting events, conventions, meetings, funerals, weddings, anything and everything came to a screeching halt so the curve could be flattened.
At the same time medical personnel and delivery people, anyone deemed “essential” worked more than ever in an effort to meet the immediate needs of the sick and of those now required to stay at home. The finish line was in sight and we all did as we were told to do. But after two weeks, we did not find ourselves at the finish line. (well, we were there but the finish line wasn’t) The finish line had been moved. It was now thirty more days to flatten the curve. For example, schools were set to open back up May 1rst now, instead of the previously promised April 6th date.
But we needed to catch our collective breath. After all, we had been sprinting. But the race was no longer a sprint. It had gone from the 100 yard dash to the 220 or the 440. This would require a different strategy. The finish line was still visible, but farther away than before. We adjusted our stride and our expectations and continued on toward the goal.
As we again drew near to our finish line, however, we found that it was no longer there. The finish line had been moved once again while we were busy running the race. Our track meet had become a cross country competition. Our course would now wind through woods, at times going off into the weeds. No more level ground of the track. There would be ups and downs, steep inclines, slippery descents, water and wilderness and more – all waiting on the path up ahead of us.
The finish line was out of sight, but we knew there was one. With the May 1rst reopening date come and gone and schools still closed, we were told that was it for the school year. School would start back up in the fall for the new school year. That was the new finish line. Restrictions continued as summer arrived and we strove diligently to stay the course laid out for us. But when schools did not open for the fall semester, when churches and restaurants remained closed and people continued to work from home – the cross country meet morphed into a marathon.
Ironically, many actual marathons had been cancelled by this time, as they draw large crowds of spectators, participants and support personnel. Most of us had not signed up for a marathon when we agreed to the two week sprint event. We had not trained, we were not prepared. Evidence of this lack of preparation was seen in shortages of various supplies, the shortages of toilet paper being the most drastic and the most notable. Apparently toilet paper is the survival purchase of choice? Who knew? But this seemed to be what people thought would enable them to run this race (now a marathon) and emerge victorious.
Although there was no visible finish line for us, the runners of the race, there was a finish line. Marathons by definition have a limit to their length. There would be an end and we would reach it if we persisted in this race against COVID. So on we ran. Well, maybe jogged, walked, limped, crawled, stumbled and struggled – but on we pressed toward the goal. And just what was the goal, we wondered? Where were the goal posts?
Weddings were cancelled and postponed, funerals were not held, the 500 was eventually run but with no fans in attendance – it seemed to be the middle of the marathon – the end was not in sight. But there was an end, a finish line up ahead, we were told. Summer streets were filled with protesters in every city – but schools, churches, businesses, stores, salons, restaurants etc. remained closed. Were we running in different races? Had they already arrived at their finish line and so were now free to live their lives, now free to determine their own path, to run their own chosen race – now free to be with other people in large crowds if they so chose? while at the same time, we were still required to run our race in masked, socially distanced isolation?
No one can say for sure just when it happened, but at some point during this time, the finish line for our marathon vanished. It simply ceased to exist. We were still in a race but there was no longer a finish line, an end point. This is no longer a marathon or even a triathlon, it is now simply the race of life. (some used to call it the “rat race”) People stopped pretending that there was a finish line. But the race to nowhere continued. Schools did not open or open fully in the fall. Outdoor dining became less desirable as the weather grew cooler and indoor options remained limited if available at all. Pubic events and family gatherings remained on hold, postponed indefinitely. That was the big shift. After months of multiple reschedulings, people stopped rescheduling public and private events. They just gave up trying to put a future date on the calendar.
Planning is not possible without a finish line in the future. The goal posts have been moved so many times, no one knows where they stand anymore. Yet still we press on in our race against COVID following – well, following who? Oh that’s right. We are following “the science” in this race – which has led us through woods, weeds, water and wilderness to where we find ourselves today. Which is where? on a very restrictive path, to be sure. There are a lot of rules for running this race. Some would say we are handicapped and hamstrung, giving COVID an unfair advantage.
But we continue on the course laid out for us, following our pacesetter and leader, science. We mask, we distance, we quarantine, we don’t gather together for celebrations or events, we don’t hug or shake hands, we work from home, we learn online, we worship online, we zoom in place of the in person encounter, restaurants operate at twenty-five percent capacity (which is not sustainable for any business), sporting events take place without fans in the stands, – life is lived virtually instead of in reality. (I guess virtual is the new real?)
We were told a vaccine was the finish line. We were told we could resume freely living our lives once a vaccine was created and made available to us. The vaccine is here but the end of this race is not yet in sight. Even fully vaccinated, we are still to mask, to distance, not gather in person in groups – we are told we are still carriers of the virus, even though asymptomatic and vaccinated. So I guess the vaccine wasn’t the finish line in this race after all?
It occurs to me now, that as much as I want there to be a finish line in this race, maybe the reason there isn’t one, is because this COVID race is really just a leg (that’s track talk) in our larger race, which is the race of life. This race begins before birth, as we grow strong in our mothers’ wombs, preparing for the race that will unfold before us, the race whose finish line is death. Ok, that makes it sound like we should all be running away from the finish line rather than towards it! Or at the least, we should be taking our time, stopping often along the way. But stick with me here for a moment, dear readers.
I confess – death does not appear to be a very desirable finish line. But perspective is everything, isn’t it? Paul shared his perspective on this race we all must run in his letter to the Philippians, telling them –
“Not that I have already obtained all this, or have already been made perfect, but I press on to take hold of that for which Christ Jesus took hold of me. Brothers, I do not consider myself yet to have taken hold of it. But one thing I do: Forgetting what is behind and straining toward what is ahead, I press on toward the goal to win the prize for which God has called me heavenward in Christ Jesus.” (Philippians 3:12-14)
So Paul understood the race. He knew to “press on” and he knew where the finish line was even if he couldn’t see it. In Hebrews 12:1-3 we read another description of this race we are running, indeed, that we are called to run, and we are given these instructions –
“Therefore, since we are surrounded by such a great cloud of witnesses, let us throw off everything that hinders and the sin that so easily entangles, and let us run with perseverance the race marked out for us. Let us fix our eyes on Jesus, the author and perfecter of our faith, who for the joy set before Him endured the cross, scorning its shame, and sat down at the right hand of the throne of God. Consider Him who endured such opposition from sinful men, so that you will not grow weary and lose heart.”
Here we are given some helpful hints for how we are to run this life race. We are to travel light, throw off what holds us back. We are to look to Jesus, He is our finish line! We are to endure in this race and not grow weary. Why? Galatians 6:9 tells us,
“Let us not become weary in doing good, for at the proper time we will reap a harvest if we do not give up.”
There is a reward for finishing the race. James 1:12 and Revelation 3:21 tells us something about what awaits us at the finish line –
“Blessed is the man who perseveres under trial, because when he has stood the test, he will receive the crown of life that God has promised to those who love Him.”
“To him who overcomes, I will give the right to sit with Me on My throne, just as I overcame and sat down with My Father on His throne.”
I confess – I am often weary and discouraged as I run this race, or more often as I plod or limp along. Still I want to be able to say what Paul said in 2 Timothy 4:7-8 when I finally reach my life’s finish line –
“I have fought the good fight, I have finished the race, I have kept the faith. Now there is in store for me the crown of righteousness, which the Lord, the righteous Judge, will award to me on that day – and not only to me, but also to all who have longed for His appearing.”
the gates of Heaven are the unseen goalposts that guide me in the race I run – I only want to run it well. Even though the obstacles named in Romans 8:35, trouble, hardship, persecution, famine, nakedness, danger and sword are all present on the path upon which I am called to run my race – I am told this in Romans 8:37-39,
“No, in all these things we are (I am) more than conquerors (more than a conqueror) through Him who loved us (me). For I am convinced that neither death nor life, neither angels nor demons, neither the present nor the future, nor any powers, neither height nor depth, nor anything else in all creation, will be able to separate us (me) from the love of God that is in Christ Jesus our Lord.”
It is time I stopped looking for an earthly finish line. The finish line, death, is actually the doorway to eternal life with Jesus. The end is really the beginning. All things will be made new. I will receive a new and glorious body. Good thing, I will need it after running this race which is totally wearing it out.
“But our citizenship is in heaven. And we eagerly await a Savior from there, the Lord Jesus Christ, who, by the power that enables Him to bring everything under His control, will transform our lowly bodies so that they will be like His glorious body.” (Philippians 3:20-21)
I will not put my hope in an earthly finish line, seen or unseen. I will put my hope in my Heavenly Father and let His goalposts guide me. He knows when I am weary, despairing and ready to quit running the race. But . . .
“He gives strength to the weary and increases the power of the weak. Even youths grow tired and weary, and young men stumble and fall; but those who hope in the Lord will renew their strength. They will soar on wings like eagles; they will run and not grow weary, they will walk and not be faint.” (Isaiah 40:29-31)
that’s how I want to run this race – with hope, perseverance and the strength God gives, eyes fixed on Jesus – soaring to His glory –
sincerely, Grace Day