In early August, my best friend Lindsay and I had the opportunity to try something outrageous and adventurous and unbelievably challenging and fun: an obstacle run. Obstacle race courses are designed to test participants’ physical and mental limits. This particular race, the Spartan Sprint, was 3½ miles of motocross track consisting of strenuous terrain with plenty of steep inclines and 18 obstacles to overcome.
We were committed to two things: have fun and complete the course. But we also enjoyed finding many spiritual lessons scattered throughout the event.
With many unknowns ahead of us, and after seeing one of the elite competitors limping off the course shortly before our start time, we knew how we had to warm up—with some stretching and some prayer! As we ran out of the starting gate with the 300 or so people in our wave and charged up an incredibly steep track, we knew we were in for one of the most demanding experiences of our lives.
One particular verse in the book of Hebrews popped to mind during the day: “Therefore, we also, since we are surrounded by so great a cloud of witnesses, let us lay aside every weight, and the sin which so easily ensnares us, and let us run with endurance the race that is set before us…” (Hebrews 12:1 Hebrews 12:1Why seeing we also are compassed about with so great a cloud of witnesses, let us lay aside every weight, and the sin which does so easily beset us, and let us run with patience the race that is set before us,
American King James Version×, this and subsequent verses NKJV unless otherwise noted).
This was especially true for the obstacle where we each had to drag a concrete block attached to a heavy chain while we balanced a small, but heavy, log on our shoulders.
How often do we try to go it alone when God is always there to carry our burdens for us? We were reminded we need to look to God and give our burdens to Him or we will swiftly run out of energy (Hebrews 12:2 Hebrews 12:2Looking to Jesus the author and finisher of our faith; who for the joy that was set before him endured the cross, despising the shame, and is set down at the right hand of the throne of God.
American King James Version×).
We also quickly acknowledged each other’s strengths and weaknesses. Lindsay’s asthma kept her from being able to sustain the cardio parts of the race. I did not have the upper body strength needed for some of the climbing challenges. But that allowed me to encourage Lindsay when she was out of breath, and Lindsay helped boost me at the climbing walls.
We needed each other to be able to continue.
Running the race… with a little help
The reality that we need others physically, mentally, emotionally and spiritually to run the race of our daily lives hit home again when we encountered the toughest challenge of the course: a slippery crawl up a ¼-mile, steep hill. Oh, and the race organizers decided to add barbed wire to the mix, stretched about a foot-and-a-half above the mud at close intervals, just to make it interesting.
The hill was teeming with slipping and sliding racers just inching forward. But an amazing thing happened…we strangers all helped each other. We had to. There was no going it alone. No one would have made it to the top that way.
We all pushed and hauled our neighbors forward an agonizing inch at a time and were in turn boosted and pulled up the hill by others. It was definitely a muddy example of the principle found in Ecclesiastes: “Two are better than one, because they have a good reward for their labor. For if they fall, one will lift up his companion. But woe to him who is alone when he falls, for he has no one to help him up,” (Ecclesiastes 4:9-10 Ecclesiastes 4:9-10 9 Two are better than one; because they have a good reward for their labor.
10 For if they fall, the one will lift up his fellow: but woe to him that is alone when he falls; for he has not another to help him up.
American King James Version×).
In our individualistic culture, it was humbling and gratifying to have to rely on others to do such a deceptively simple sounding task as crawling up a hill! And it confirmed that going through the tough stuff in life helps us bond with each other. We gave one particular “mud buddy” some high fives after we reached the top, since we three had helped each other up in many spots on the hill.
Encouragement, just in time
This situation came up again when we helped other weary racers pull massive tires at the end of the course. The exhaustion, and in some, despair was palpable at that point in the race, so helping was crucial. It halved the struggle that we each had to make.
Throughout the race, both verbal and nonverbal encouragement and help was crucial. Race volunteers sprinkled here and there told us to “Keep it up!” and said, “You’re doing great!”
After all, “Anxiety in the heart of man causes depression, but a good word makes it glad” (Proverbs 12:25 Proverbs 12:25Heaviness in the heart of man makes it stoop: but a good word makes it glad.
American King James Version×). There was plenty of anxiety in the racers with so much unknown ahead, but we all encouraged each other to keep going. And we kept up a sense of humor by repeatedly mentioning, with grins, the fact that we’d all paid for this experience too!
Expect the unexpected and finish strong
We had both gone into the race asking God to keep us free from injury. Aside from scraping off an entire layer of skin, some epic bruises and a couple barbed wire puncture wounds, He definitely delivered (Though the feeling the morning after made Isaiah 40:31 Isaiah 40:31But they that wait on the LORD shall renew their strength; they shall mount up with wings as eagles; they shall run, and not be weary; and they shall walk, and not faint.
American King James Version×that much more something to look forward to!). But for me, my last chance at injury came when least expected. The final obstacle was to get past three “gladiators”—guys with massive pugil sticks.
We were tantalizingly close to the finish line so we charged them. We got through all three and then the third unexpectedly swung his stick backwards and caught me on the back of my lower legs. If it weren’t for a quick hop forward, that could have been a sure spill and injury. I was reminded to “be sober, be vigilant” and keep an eye out for the ways that trouble can pop up just when you think you’re safe (1 Peter 5:8-9 1 Peter 5:8-9 8 Be sober, be vigilant; because your adversary the devil, as a roaring lion, walks about, seeking whom he may devour:
9 Whom resist steadfast in the faith, knowing that the same afflictions are accomplished in your brothers that are in the world.
American King James Version×)!
Throughout the race, the opportunity to just give up and say it was too much was always there. But we had each other and we had our commitment to finish. We need that in life when all our trials get in the way of our own finish lines and we cannot see the end. If you are facing seemingly insurmountable obstacles, give your burdens to God, look to others for help and maintain your commitment to finish strong.
In the end, we can all then say like Paul did, “I have fought the good fight, I have finished the race, I have kept the faith. Finally there is laid up for me the crown of righteousness, which the Lord, the righteous Judge, will give to me on that Day, and not to me only but also to all who have loved His appearing” (2 Timothy 4:7-8 2 Timothy 4:7-8 7 I have fought a good fight, I have finished my course, I have kept the faith:
8 From now on there is laid up for me a crown of righteousness, which the Lord, the righteous judge, shall give me at that day: and not to me only, but to all them also that love his appearing.
American King James Version×).
We hope to see you there so we can give all our “mud buddies” triumphant and thankful high fives!