Behold, we call those happy who are steadfast. You have heard of the steadfastness of Job, and you have seen the purpose of the Lord, how the Lord is compassionate and merciful.
A marathon is a 26.2 mile race. It takes even the most elite runners two hours to complete and for others it can take several hours. A 100-meter sprint takes 10 seconds for elite runners, and even slower runners like me will complete it in less than 20 seconds. The approach to each race is significantly different. The one who is only going to cover 100 yards can “go all out” for those 10-20 seconds. If they are exhausted after this small distance, that’s okay, the event is over. The marathon runner would not come out of the gate like a sprinter, lest he or she burn all their energy in the first minutes of the race. The marathon must be run at a slower, yet still steady pace, when compared with a sprint.
Life resembles more marathon than sprint, though there are occasions when one is called to “go all out” followed by a period of rest. The Holy Week journey comes to mind for me, along with summer camp. The rest of the year, however, it’s slow and steady that gets things done.
The Christian life resembles more the marathon than the sprint. There might be sprints here and there, just like there might be momentous victories as well as valleys, but overall the Christian life is a marathon, and it’s the steady Christian that crosses the finish line. In speaking of our purpose in life, as a Christian our purpose is to stay steady through the ups and downs of life. Saint James, in his universal letter, says “Behold, we call those happy who are steadfast.” (James 5:11) Those who live on the poles of very high or very low are generally not happy. They might be happy on the pole of success, but because the pole of failure is so low and because they bounce back and forth between highs and lows, even the highs aren’t that great because one knows its only a matter of time before they hit a low point again. This is why being steadfast actually brings more happiness and fulfillment, even if it doesn’t come with high “highs.”
Saint James references the “steadfastness of Job.” (5:11) Job is an Old Testament figure, who had many blessings. Satan approached God one day and challenged God. He told God that Job was only steadfast because God was good to Job, that if everything Job had was taken away, that Job would turn his back on God. So God permitted Satan to harm Job, and harm him is what Satan did. Job lost his children, his possessions, his health, everything that he had. Even his wife discouraged him.
One of the most powerful passages from the Bible, in my humble opinion, is Job 1:20-22. We read, “Then Job arise, and rent his robe, and shaved his head, and fell upon the ground and worshiped. And he said ‘Naked I came form my mother’s womb, and naked I shall return; the Lord gave, and the Lord has taken away; blessed be the name of the Lord.’ In all this Job did not sin or charge God with wrong.”
WOW! In the midst of everything going wrong, and I mean EVERYTHING, Job fell down and worshiped God. He did not sin or charge God with wrong. Yes, Job complained to his friends, even complained to God. In fact, most of the book of Job is the lamenting of Job to God and anyone else who would listen. Job’s steadfastness is eventually rewarded. We read in the last verses of Job that “the Lord restored the fortunes of Job, when he had prayed for his friends; and the Lord gave Job twice as much as he had before.” (Job 42:10) Perhaps the purpose of the Lord in “permitting” all of these sorrows to come on Job was so that the world would see that faithfulness is not remaining steadfast when everything is going right, but remaining steadfast when everything is going wrong.
There is a slippery slope when we talk about the will of God. There is an intentional will of God (i.e. I feel like God intended for me to be a priest) and there is the permissive will of God (i.e. God permits bad things to happen, in the sense that He doesn’t stop bad things from happening most of the time because He has given us free will. Certainly there are times when God stops something bad from happening. This is a miracle. However, why God permits certain things and creates miracles in other circumstances is a question for which we have no answer). God permitted what happened to Job. It was caused by Satan, not by God. However, God permitted it, and when Job endured the bad things caused by Satan, God eventually stepped in an alleviated suffering and rewarded Job’s steadfastness.
Part of our purpose is to endure whatever life throws at us. And when we remain steadfast, St. James writes (and the evidence of Job’s life confirms) that “The Lord is compassionate and merciful.” (James 5:11) We all have our low moments in life—I certainly have my share. In these moments, I remember some advice I received at one of my lowest moments from a priest who spoke with compassion but also with intention. He told me “Don’t be a victim, be a survivor. God does not want victims, He wants survivors.” I have taken that advice to heart for over 30 years. This life is a marathon and our purpose is to survive it, hopefully thrive in it, but in all circumstances to glorify God in it and serve others in it. And sometimes to goal will be just to keep moving and that’s okay. In the early moments of a marathon, there is the joy of the start. In the later moments of the marathons, there will be adrenaline for the finish. Along the route there will be spurts of energy and moments of despair. But most of the race is just putting one foot in front of the other and staying steadfast to the goal of finishing. Ife works the same way—some joys, some setbacks, but most of the time just putting one foot in front of the other and staying steadfast in the journey to salvation.
One other thing—there are many marathon courses—some are flat, some have hills, some are harder than others. It’s the same with every life. Each of our races is different, but the goal of each race is the same—to finish. And we finish by being steadfast on the course.
Lord, thank You for giving me another day to run the marathon that is my life. Whether today’s section of the course is difficult or easy, whether it is a triumph or a setback, please run with me and help me to be steadfast in putting one foot in front of the other. Allow me to enjoy the good strides and not to despair about the bad ones, keep me going when I feel like stopping, and keep my eyes on You, who are not only the comforter in the race, but its finish line. Amen.
Keep running your race!