Two years back, I was in the final polishing phase of what I hoped would be my quickest marathon to date – a rare taste of a PB from being a late starter to the full distance.
All the signs were good. The eight months of training that followed my previous marathon had been strong. The eighteen-week program of long runs, progression and marathon-pace runs, intervals and recovery runs had all suggested that my target time more realistic than fanciful.
Ten days out, when all the hay was in the barn, and I was preparing to feast, I pulled up sore from one of my sessions. The ball of my foot hurt.
Phantom pains in the days before a big race aren’t uncommon, so I continued to prepare hoping it was more imagined than real. Walking up with pain in the middle of the night seemed to suggest it probably wasn’t psychosomatic.
I lined up at the start all the same, hoping the gun would trigger some amnesia of the phantom pains that had trailed me over the last week. It took less than a kilometre to realise that my hope was more vain than substantial. It hurt, and the hurt was growing.
I laboured through 22 kilometres before withdrawing from the race altogether, bummed that I couldn’t deliver the baby I’d been growing inside of me.
I’d later discover that a stress fracture on the ball of my left foot (the second metatarsal to be specific) was the culprit.
A few days after the race, as I limped around Bali with my wife, Fi, for our ‘post-race celebration’, she asked how I was doing. I said that I felt like I was carrying around an undelivered baby. It was still there waiting to find its full expression.
All the endurance, all the character development that comes along the way, was preparing me to give birth to something on July 2, 2015, but it never happened. It just felt like it should have.
When Paul writes to the church in Rome, faith and hope shine brightly through the power of the Gospel that God reveals through Jesus.
When he writes about our hope in God’s eternal glory, there’s no shortage of fruit along the journey.
And we rejoice in the hope of the glory of God. Not only that, but we rejoice in our sufferings, knowing that suffering produces endurance, and endurance produces character, and character produces hope, and hope does not put us to shame, because God’s love has been poured into our hearts through the Holy Spirit who has been given to us.
Suffering, endurance, and character are fruits of a life propelled by hope in a kingdom still coming in all its fullness. There are sniffs and glimpses around us, for sure, but we’re changed from glory to glory as we make the glory of God our life moderating pursuit.
And here’s what happens as we do. Amidst our suffering, our endurance and spiritual maturity, a seed of hope takes root in us. It’s nourished by the love of God being poured into us. Unlike the benign hope of a 2’39 marathon, it’s the potent, shameless, encouraging and eternal hope of the glory of God.
Here are two things I’ve found.
God uses the toughness of our circumstances as fertile ground for filling us with the hope of his glory and the robustness of his love.
When Paul talks about suffering – distress, trouble, pressure – there’s no sense of them being attribution-dependent. It’s not rendered invalid if we perpetrated the suffering on ourselves. It’s not just for those who have suffering foisted upon them through the injustice of others. It’s a general context for allowing the hope of His glory to take root in us.
There is also present and future fruit. Our suffering becomes the context for God’s love to grow a present hope amidst the pain. It also yields the fruit of endurance in the suffering – another reminder of God’s love fueling hope in us which, in turn, reminds us of the spacious place of grace in which we now stand.
It shouldn’t surprise us that a growing hope of God’s glory is accompanied by a restlessness with what we see around us. There’s a cavernous gap between what I see in and around me, and the anticipation of God’s glory. This shouldn’t leave us despondent in ourselves and others, but excited for what’s coming; eager to share the love that God pours into our hearts with those around us.
We are pregnant with the anticipation of God’s glory. It’s a living hope that can be fueled but never exaggerated in its goodness. Unlike an aborted marathon, it’s not founded on the temporal but the eternal – a hope and love that endures. Summer, winter, springtime and harvest.
That is why waiting does not diminish us, any more than waiting diminishes a pregnant mother. We are enlarged in the waiting. We, of course, don’t see what is enlarging us. But the longer we wait, the larger we become, and the more joyful our expectancy.