I was a sophomore in high school when I began running Cross Country. Before then I hadn’t even heard of it before. It was my biology teacher who talked me into it. He knew exactly how to convince me too… he told me it would get me in shape for basketball season. Done. Sign me up up, Coach!
We had practice twice a day, before and after school. I loved to run but I knew nothing about running long distance. I don’t think I had ever run more than a mile at one time so the whole concept of running a 3 mile “race” was new to me. I was used to running as fast as I could and I couldn’t do that for more than a few hundred feet. How would I keep going for three miles? …and be racing other people in the process? I had a lot to learn.
I will never forget one September afternoon, our Coach, had us running the Bowdoin loop right behind the school. It was a short, 1 mile loop that included a steady uphill grade. (It felt more steep than I’m sure it really was.) We must have run it six times that afternoon. It was that last run up the hill that I remember most vividly.
There weren’t many girls on the team and those who were had a lot more running experience than I did. They were stronger and faster than I was and that was always obvious especially during practice and particularly by the end of an afternoon practice. I got used to running alone. The boys were always so far ahead they were out of sight, and the girls… well at least I could still see them up ahead of me. So, that last time up Bowdoin loop I was feeling it. My strides were short but steady. I wasn’t about to walk it, but it was a struggle to keep going, especially on my own.
I remember hearing someone come up alongside me. It was unexpected but I welcomed the company. I looked over and realized it was my Coach. This man who towered over me physically had matched his stride to mine. When my foot hit the pavement so did his. Stride for stride we climbed that hill. At one point he even said out loud, “Step… step… step…” each time our right feet hit the ground. I wish I had the words to convey the strength I felt going up that hill. He wasn’t running for me. His presence wasn’t pressuring me to match his stride. And he certainly wasn’t yelling at me to get me to run faster. He just came alongside, met me where I was at, and in so doing allowed me to find the strength in myself that I didn’t know I had.
There are two parallels I think we can draw from us. First of all, we have the greatest Coach of all available to us every day in the Holy Spirit. He dwells within us and is our Encourager and Counselor. He is there to keep us on God’s path and guide our every step. He is with us always. We are never alone! He is in us and with us in our life stride for stride.
At the same time I believe God wants us to come alongside others just as my Coach did for me that afternoon, just as God does for us everyday. There is power in coming alongside each other!
As I write this I am convicted. I don’t know if you’ve done this but I sure have… I’ve been the one that’s come alongside and wanted to run “for someone,” doing too much, taking over, not letting them run their own race. I’ve also been the one that’s come alongside and said, “Keep up with me,” instead of changing my stride to meet theirs. And, unfortunately, I’ve also been the one who has been impatient and demanding, wanting others to just move faster or “get it” quicker. Ugh! There is a lot to learn about coming alongside. It seems simple but to do it right we must be led by the One who does it best.
I hope all of you have or will experience the power that comes when someone is just there with you, walking with you or running with you, stride for stride. It is of the Lord. It is inspiring. It is healing and it is strengthening. There is nothing like it!
Lord thank you for being a God, a friend, a Coach that desires to come alongside us every day and every moment of our lives. Help us to be like you in the lives of our friends, family members, co-workers, and loved ones. Show us how to pace with them and give them the strength they may not even realize they have. All our strength comes from you, Lord. Thank you. Teach us and show us how to be like you so that others may come to know you better. In your name we pray, amen.