I set myself a goal to run a marathon five years ago. I went from zero to running half the distance in about three months. It took me another year and a half to finally stand at the start line for my first attempt at 42km.
How did it go? Not well. I finished, but only just, limping across the line in just under five painful hours.
After a few months of insisting I’d never do another one, I decided there was unfinished business to attend to, and I was back to training, hoping for a shot at redemption.
Jump forward three years, and I’ve come a long way since that New Year’s Resolution when I first declared I was going to run a marathon, (when I didn’t even know how far a marathon was). Somehow, I’ve grown to love the sport of running and I finished my fourth marathon last week.
I’ve learnt a lot of lessons over the course of my marathon journey, one being, how far planning, persistence and passion can take you.
And that is, only so far.
You see, despite my commitment to training, none of my marathons have gone to plan. I’ve never hit my goal times. Unpredictability is what makes sport exciting, but it’s also not easy missing out when you feel you deserved to do better.
The first time it was injury. Then it was a virus, next a fungal infection, and then unfavourable climatic conditions. I’d done everything I could, but it still wasn’t enough.
I was counting on the hard work I’d put in to achieve what I hoped for, but it didn’t quite work out that way.
Out of our hands
Being well planned, never quitting and love for what you do are possibly our best shot at making a difference. You’ll find these traits in anyone who is seen to be successful. Yet, many of us find that even these, some of the greatest of human character traits don’t always come through for us.
While some may put failure despite our best efforts down to bad luck, that’s neither encouraging nor helpful. If luck was the only thing coming up against our diligent investment towards our goals, then we’re admitting success and failure are ultimately out of our control. But I guess that’s the realisation everyone comes to at some point in there lives.
We can’t guarantee results. All we have control over is what we’re working towards- the direction we’re steering in. Trying to control what was always out of our hands is only going to cause anxiety and frustration.
Changing our view of success
Additionally, I find my view of success and failure are usually based of pretty vague ideas of what I’m meant to be aiming for. Often it’s just a comparison to what others are doing. I think sometimes what we see as failure is actually a success in ways we haven’t considered, and vice versa.
If life is like a trek through the scrub, following the direction of a compass, we’re bound to come across disappointments, where the going gets tough and our expectations aren’t met, but that shouldn’t stop us. The important thing is that we keep moving forward and continue checking our compass to see we’re on track. In this scenario, the really important question becomes: can I trust my compass?
Most of the time, things don’t pan out exactly how we’d like. The challenge for us is to let this teach us that our lives can have greater purpose than just meeting personal goals.
We come to understand that a life of service and self-sacrifice for the benefit of others is a life that has rewards beyond winning and losing.
If things aren’t working out, maybe it’s time to stop beating your own way through the bush. Is it possible the one behind the ‘luck’ is trying to get your attention?
When life is a journey, where we learn the purposes given to us by the one who put us here, we find we can live with freedom. The pressure is off.
To continue in this line of thinking, if we’re pursuing what our maker has designed us for, rather than goals of our own making, won’t we then have divine help on our side? The Bible even says in Proverbs chapter 16, verse 3, ‘Commit to the LORD whatever you do, and your plans will succeed’. In other words, talk to God about your plans; get your plans to line up with His, and you’ll see what success really looks like.
It’s possible that we’re frustrated because we’re aiming for something different to that which our lives were intended for. Just relax!
Success is possible when we have clarity on exactly what success should look like for us. We’ll discover that success comes naturally, like a gift, when we have a compass that points us in the right direction.
The real difference
Which brings me to Christ. The difference maker. Who takes my failures and covers them with his victory. Takes my rebellion and makes me his friend.
The story of grace that he weaves through my life is why I have hope that won’t end in disappointment. Because that hope isn’t in something that will happen- in whether I’ll achieve a certain goal, it’s in a person that I can know right now. A person who doesn’t change.
He’s the reason my successes and failures don’t affect me like they once did. He’s set my life on a course for something far more satisfying that what I could come up with on my own. And while it’s a life that may still feel like a marathon, it’s a marathon I run together with the best of guides.
Tom likes Indian spices, French cars, British drama and Japanese gardens. He goes running nearly everyday, but early in the morning so that he doesn't miss time with his wife and two young kids. In his spare time, Tom is a Special Needs and Technology teacher.
Tom’s other articles can be found at https://www.pressserviceinternational.org/tom-anderson.html