There I stood, thousands upon hundreds of people surrounding me, all of us at the ready for the race to begin. Looking about I predicted that I would keep up with the great mass of all the runners; not winning, but not losing either. I figured I could run at the steady pace that the majority of the runners would keep without a problem and with their presence surrounding me I would feed on the encouragement to keep running forward. The starting gun sounded and we all swarmed through over the line like a stream pouring forward down its path as a length of debris is removed. The fastest runners held themselves in check as the overzealous runners ran forward ahead. And for several miles I trotted along, one foot in front of the other in a steady rhythm.
Suddenly, I stumbled, my rhythm disrupted. It was nothing I told myself as I easily slid back into the drum that moved the mass forward. I paid no sharp attention to those around me, focused on keeping up; focused on not causing a problem; focused on not becoming an interference that would upset the mass. When I had put a few more miles behind me I brushed off that stumble as a one-time occurrence and I needn’t worry about something akin to it happening again. Just as those feelings passed me by I stumbled again and again and again.
Looking down at the ground beneath my feet I saw nothing that would be tripping me, only my feet and legs and the vague shapes of the feet and legs that were around me. I really focused on not tripping any more yet, I still did. The runners both behind and next to me were getting annoyed, moving away from me so as to not be affected by my blundering as they moved ahead.
Desperate, I tried to catch up, to stay with the mass. And then I fell, scraping my knee on the road that appeared so smooth and flawless. With no time to really understand what had happened I clambered to my feet leaning forward to pick up the speed and time that I had lost with that fall. And then I fell again, scraping both my knees and the palms of my hands. Panicked and anxious about the thinning throng of runners around me, about how they moved to the sides from behind me and closed up in front of me, leaving no opening for me to rejoin them, my heart cried with every beat.
The falls happened more frequently, multiplying by every mile. My arms and legs scraped and bleeding, my hands and wrists aching from attempting to break each fall, the tears from my heart climbed to my eyes and dribbled down my cheeks. I could not afford to lend the time to those tears, to fully allow myself to cry because everyone was moving ahead of me, leaving me behind. I had fallen so much that it was difficult to remember what my body used to look like, what it had looked like when this race began. Only a vague memory lingered of how I had planned and trained and felt in anticipation of this test of resolve and endurance. The last time I fell I could not rise to my feet. I struggled and strained, my hands alternating as they reached forward for something to grasp, to pull myself off the suddenly irregular path that was responsible for beating and battering my body, as I crawled forward, begging to not be abandoned as my body sustained even more injury. The last of the mass of runners barely behind me, I pleaded with them to help me up. Each runner took with them the last of the strength that I had, draining my encouragement and every positive feeling that had kept me moving. My hands slid out from beneath me, throwing my chest on the hard, rocky ground. My tears flowed freely, staining the treacherous ground that had hurt me so, stinging the many scrapes and scratches on my face and arms. I laid there, defeated, no will to move on. What was the point? Why finish the race? I hadn’t even the strength to pull myself forward on my arms alone.
The gravel shifted; a shadow grew. Next to my right the wind shifted and the feeling of a warm body laid next to mine, legs drawn straight from behind, arms drawn forward, elbows broken by abrasions and blood trickling from hurts that I could not see. I dared not to look, thinking this a cruel phantom come to torment me even further. And then the right hand reached over the left arm to touch and grasp my quivering right hand. I clenched my eyes shut then, sure that this was far too much to really be true, and turned away, my last sob wracking my abused and exhausted body.
And then they came. They came dancing on whispers that were at first hard to hear. They came sweet and simple, clean and pure, strong and true. I dared to look; I dared to hope. There was nothing else I could lose. As my neck turned my heavy head bit by bit, the hand that grasped mine gently journeyed up my arm to my shoulder and met my jaw. The rough yet soft fingers then wrapped under my chin, lifting my eyes until I saw him. “Don’t worry, I’m here. And I won’t leave you behind.” My arms had strength then and guided by his example, we pulled ourselves forward slowly, inch by inch, going no faster than I was able. I kept looking to my right to see if he was still there, to see if he was an illusion or not. And each time I did, he still remained, smiling and blessing me with as much encouragement as I needed at any given time and more.
For a time I dragged myself forward until my legs had recovered a bit of their strength. To my knees I rose, testing that strength before crawling on them and my hands. He did the same, pausing to put his right hand on my shoulder again and through that touch bless me with more encouragement. More and more time passed before I found something in front of me to grasp firmly and pull myself up to stand on my feet. Unsteady and shaking I dared not step forward. He stood next to me, hands out ready to catch me should I fall. Still grasping what I had so desperately latched onto, I tentatively released my right hand in favor of his open hands and before I knew it I had fallen into them. Before I had time to panic he caught me, helping my feet remember where they needed to be as his arms pulled me up higher than I could have ever achieved alone. Fully supporting me, he whispered into my ear again, helping to restore my resolve to keep going, to keep moving forward, baby step followed by baby step.
He still has never left my side. He still does not make me go faster than I can go. He still follows my unique rhythm and inspires me to put my complete trust in him.
How can I not? For he is Jesus, eternally by my side.