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I am not a runner. In fact, my favorite exercise is turning pages in a book while I sip a cup of hot coffee. But the page in the advertising circular was so persuasive: Absolutely anyone could follow this plan and work their way up to running 5 kilometers in 30 minutes! My oldest son and I decided to put it to the test. 

We’ve worked our way up from 25 minutes of walking and 5 minutes of running to 20 minutes of walking and 10 of running, but it hasn’t gotten any easier. Today is a prime example. My 15-year-old son and I set out from our house, walking at a brisk pace. The walking is actually a little fun: I look at the flowers in yards, the leaves just starting to change color. We talk about school and his favorite video game and his computer project or his writing. We’re walking fast because we’re trying to beat our all-time speed record, but it’s pleasant.

But then my son, who is the trail boss, counts down the seconds. 5…4…3…2…1…Run! The first minute isn’t so bad, and I start the positive internal chatter in my head. “Keep it up!” I tell myself. “You can do it!” But as the minutes tick slowly past, my enthusiasm evaporates. My foot starts to hurt, my lungs start to ache. I adjust my running to be even slower, and notice my son running in a zigzag pattern so he won’t be too far ahead of me. He calls out the time after each minute. How can they possibly last so long?

By the time six minutes have passed, I am no longer noticing flowers or how far along we are. I have just enough presence of mind to duck under the low tree branches that line part of our route. I don’t care whether we’re faster than we were the last time; I have forgotten that I have done this before and survived. I don’t even feel any pride in having worked up to accomplishing what I couldn’t have done three weeks ago. All I want to do is stop. My foot still hurts, and my leg is reminding me that I broke it once, years ago.

With the fatigue and the discouragement, the positive chatter becomes mostly negative. I’m so slow! My poor son is loping ahead and then running in place so I can catch up. I imagine him embarassed of me, of my slow run, of my knee brace and my lack of grace. Seven minutes down and I might as well stop running. I can’t do it, that’s all. I can always try again tomorrow. Why bother running anymore?

My son turns his head. “Eight minutes!” he calls. And then he shouts, “Only two more minutes! We’re almost done! You’ve got this!” 

I’m not running any faster than I was. I’m still slow, and tired, and hurting. But it doesn’t matter. He’s not embarassed because of me: He’s encouraging me. We can do this—I can do this! It’s only two measly little minutes. All that positive chatter comes back, and I keep putting one foot in front of the other. I don’t give up—I run the whole ten minutes. And while I walk off the last 10 minutes of our routine, I think about how powerful the right encouraging word can be.

In Hebrews 12, the apostle Paul compares the Christian life to running a race, and he instructs readers to encourage each other: “Therefore strengthen the hands which hang down, and the feeble knees, and make straight paths for your feet, so that what is lame may not be dislocated, but rather be healed” (Hebrews 12:12-13 Hebrews 12:12-13 12 Why lift up the hands which hang down, and the feeble knees; 13 And make straight paths for your feet, lest that which is lame be turned out of the way; but let it rather be healed.
American King James Version×
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Sometimes, especially when trials make the road ahead seem especially rough, we all have moments when we just want to quit. We’ve all had times when it seemed like everyone else was just speeding along, running so beautifully, and we felt lame and tired and slow. What a blessing to have someone run alongside and say, “Hey! Don’t give up! You’ve got this!”

Today’s run represented one more step checked off on our workout plan, one day closer to that elusive 5K. And because of my son’s shouted encouragement, I did finish that run, and we were faster than we’d ever been before. I ran well because there was someone to tell me not to give up. May we all find opportunity—today, tomorrow, at any moment—to be that encouragement to someone else. Let’s be the voice that says, “You’re almost there! You can do it! You’ve got this!”