My birthday is in about two weeks. And it’s a big one. I’ve crested one hill and am standing at the foot of another. But that isn’t how I know I’m not young anymore. And it isn’t because my kids keep reminding me I’m getting old, although it’s entirely possible I’m unfortunate enough to have a child who reminds me of exactly that…and often.
I know because I tried to pretend I was young this weekend and ended up humbled and put firmly in my place.
Three friends and I got the chance to sneak away for a day and a half. We left behind a grand total of 14 kids and escaped to a hotel with a free continental breakfast and a swimming pool and an exercise room and a hot tub. We got snacks (and maybe even some gelato) and we laughed over nothing and talked about everything. We learned about each other and shared encouragement in our walks with God.
It was so incredible that we didn’t even mind too much that the hot tub wasn’t working or that none of us were brave enough to stick even a toe into the cold pool water or that the exercise room only kept our attention for about 15 minutes, most of which we spent giggling. Because yes, even grown women giggle when they’re given a day off.
But our day off had a purpose and the hotel was only the prelude. We had journeyed together up the interstate to take part in a 5K Color Run. It was a memorial for the young daughter of a friend who was murdered while serving as a missionary 7 years ago. It was a time of reflection and reconnection with old friends.
It was also where I learned I am old.
Because I’ve been running, you know. Several times a week I lace up my shoes, which until yesterday had holes in the tops of them, and hit the pavement with my best stride. And at times I’m even tempted to feel pretty good about myself. Again, until yesterday.
We took our places and waited for the signal. And then we took off. Feeling confident, I surged past the walkers and found a comfortable spot behind a young couple who also seemed determined to run it. They appeared fit and eager, and I could hear them chatting while they ran. And so I settled in to let them pace me. I figured I’d really prove myself this time. Because you’re not old if you can hang with the young folk, right?
We made great time through the first part of the course. It was a trail run combined with a span of open space around a field. I was feeling good and I was keeping up. The vibrant, cheerful young man picked up pretty quickly on the fact that I was following them and he took it upon himself to check up on me. He’d glance back and check my position and at first I thought maybe he felt threatened. But I realized it was more concern for the threat I posed for myself when he called to me…
You doing okay back there?
Call me sensitive, but I got the impression he was maybe noticing my geriatric condition and wondering where my walker was. Or at the very least my electric wheelchair. And so my resolve to keep up deepened. I tapped into my inner reserve and called on the competitor that died upon the birth of my first child. Because back in the day I could hold my own. Surely I could do the same now.
The race continued and I was hanging on. Perfectly content to stay behind them but feeling smug that they weren’t leaving me in the dust. Then the young chap opened his mouth again and made me forget how I was gagging on color dust and feeling the onset of a sinus infection brought on by inhalation. He said to his partner…
I guess this pace is what happens when you don’t train at all.
I felt color stain my cheeks and it wasn’t from the powder being cast my way. And it wasn’t the blush of exertion. It was my pride being stomped into the ground. Because that sweet young man had put me firmly in my place. He had, without meaning to, reminded me that I wasn’t what I once was. He may have hit the trail cold but I’d been “training” for months.
I momentarily considered calling for my cane and resigning myself to old age. But age has also brought with it a hefty dose of stubborness and so I stayed the course. I finished in 25 minutes, just behind my young pacers. And never mind that I was a little more winded than I should have been or that I spent the next 8 hours sneezing, coughing and feeling a little like a tie-dyed smurf–I found a lesson within the humble pie I’d been served.
Because I am not young anymore. Not, at least, compared with the girl I used to be. But while the years bring aches once unknown, they also bring wisdom. I now know these three things…
- The race is worth running. We will grow weary and want to quit. We will be tempted to believe it is too hard or that dropping out wouldn’t hurt anything. But wisdom leads us to cling to the Source that renews our strength.
- The race is worth finishing. Because it does no good to run if we never cross the line. If we give up before our work is done, we won’t find peace in the rest. That peace and that rest comes only when we’ve labored until the end. The joy in the labor is in the promise of the rest.
- We can’t run alone. We need a pacer. We need One to look to for strength and endurance. We need partnership with not only those running beside, in front and behind us, but with Him who already won the race and offers to share the crown.
Am I also allowed to admit I’m NOT celebrating that birthday I mentioned?!!