Going for run is kind of like going to the dentist. No one wants to do it. You begin this venture consciously knowing that some form of pain is involved; and yet, when it’s over, you’re glad you ran…or went to the dentist. Well, in theory that’s how it works.
This past Saturday I participated in a 10 mile run at Huntington Beach. It was a great day spent with friends and students from my youth group. As the race started, I found myself at the very end of the pack and slowly moved up past the joggers and positioned myself somewhere in the middle of this large group of runners. About four miles into the race, I noticed that I was running by myself. I began focusing on this kid ahead of me who looked like he was eleven. I made it my goal to pass him.
It wasn’t too long after this that I met Jeff. He ran up next to me and asked what my pace was. I replied: “No idea.” Truthfully, I didn’t care. I just wanted to finish the race. Jeff told me he wanted to run under 9 minutes a mile and I thought that sounded good. So, for the next six miles I ran with Jeff. We made some small talk, and spurred one another on. This was my first “race” since high school when I ran cross-country. For Jeff, though, this was just another typical Saturday morning. He likes running and participates in a number races throughout the year. I thought Jeff was a little crazy, but nonetheless, a nice guy.
Around mile eight, I realized that I was going to finish the race. Furthermore, I realized that Jeff was playing a huge role in helping me run. Maybe it was his enthusiastic remarks or the fact that I had somebody to keep in step with. Whatever the reason, my run that day was better because of Jeff.
Jeff’s willingness to befriend me and run with a complete stranger taught me a little bit about encouragement. There have been numerous spiritual gift questionnaires I’ve meticulously filled out and received encouragement as one of my gifts. I don’t know how accurate those tests are. I had a junior high student fill one out once and his number one gift was “speaking in tongues.” He asked me if that meant Spanish. I told him yes and it also meant the ability to speak Elvish.
My understanding of spiritual gifts has changed over the years. I’m not sure if encouragement is a gift some people have and others don’t. I think we often equate “being nice” with encouragement. (However, I know some really nice people who are not encouraging.) Real encouragement, though, is deeper than good manners and sentiments. True encouragement has less to do with the actual words we use and more to do with the time we’re willing to share with someone. It has to do with presence. When we can say we’ve shared life with a friend and stood by their side through thick and thin, perhaps, then, we understand encouragement. I have people in my life who are constant like that. I know they will stick with me as the miles add up. Encouragement happens in those moments when someone asks us where we're heading. It continues when they stick by our side for the remainder of the journey.