“I have fought the good fight, I have finished the race, I have kept the faith.” – 2 Timothy 4:7
There are over 2 billion Christians in the world right now.
How many did the apostles convert? We can’t know for sure, but it wasn’t anywhere close to 2 billion.
After every hardship they endured, they left behind a few small communities of Christians. To most people living at that time, I’m sure it looked like a failure. As St. Paul was being executed, what Roman could have imagined a world with 2 billion Christians?
I believe some of the early Christians understood something we’ve mostly forgotten. We usually only think of time as it relates to our own lifespan. We don’t usually consider how events will play out after we’re gone or what sort of impact we may have on those events.
When I read Dune, I was especially interested in the Bene Gesserits. Not that I’m in favor of breeding programs (I’m really not), but I was fascinated by the way they weren’t focused on short-term goals. Every move they made was focused on a future goal most of them would never be alive to reach.
Isn’t that a Christian attitude? At least, it should be. We have to consider the long-term impact of our actions.
Change comes slowly. That doesn’t mean we should sit around and wait for change to happen. We make it happen, but to do that, we have to see the race for what it really is.
People like to say, “Life isn’t a sprint. It’s a marathon,” but that’s not right.
A Christian life isn’t a sprint or a marathon. It’s a relay race.
The knowledge of just how bad everything is can be so overwhelming it feels paralyzing. But you aren’t paralyzed. If you choose, you can be part of the change that’s coming.
“What can we possibly do to fix all this?”
We take our baton, we run our section of the track, then we hand off the baton to the person who comes next. That’s what we do.
Are you going to put a stop to all evil in the church? Absolutely not. No one person is going to do that, but having faith means we believe that someday the world will be saved. We didn’t start this race. We probably won’t finish it. I don’t expect complete reform in my life, but that doesn’t mean I get to sit out the race. We can be part of building God’s kingdom.
Someday in the (perhaps distant) future, a runner is going to be truckin’ it and finally see Jesus, standing with his arms open.
“People say, what is the sense of our small effort? They cannot see that we must lay one brick at a time, take one step at a time. A pebble cast into a pond causes ripples that spread in all directions. Each one of our thoughts, words and deeds is like that. No one has a right to sit down and feel hopeless. There is too much work to do.” – Dorothy Day
For you, running the race might mean cooking dinner once a week for a struggling family.
It might mean massive amounts of prayer.
It could mean speaking out about injustice and abuse.
Or driving your neighbor to her doctor’s appointments.
For me, it might be making somewhat annoying metaphors.
They look like very different actions, but we’re running the same race.
It’s not about having faith in authority figures. It’s about having faith that we are heading toward that finish line. That what we’re doing will make a difference, even if we can’t see the impact of our work. Maybe the best we can do is hand the baton off to someone who can do more than us after we’re gone.
Those people who started this race had faith that we’d keep running after they handed it off to us. We need to have that same faith. We put in the work, even if we don’t see the fruits of it, because we know it’s right. Because we know our work will be finished by people who come after us. Because we know we’re all heading somewhere.
I know it seems like no matter what we do we’re never going to get there, but it’s a long race and we’re not that far from the starting line. There’s still a lot of track to cover, so let’s cover as much as we can in the time we have.
As always, I understand why some people aren’t running. I understand if you have to walk away and I won’t judge anyone for that. I don’t want to pressure anyone to keep going if it’s not healthy for them. If you need to step away and refuel, or if you’re too exhausted and beat up to carry on at all, I get it.
To those who’ve decided to stay, but feel like they’ll never see the fruits of their efforts:
Fight the good fight.
Finish your portion of the race.
And have faith that you aren’t running alone. There are saints— past and future—running this race with you.