Tuesday, April 15, 2008

The Home Stretch

The superintendent of the school district where I work is a devout Southern Baptist and a truly outstanding human being. He is also a great speaker, and he often tells us funny and inspiring stories. Here is a story that he often tells and that I think is very appropriate for Orthodox Christians for this time of year.

By the way, since our superintendent just finished a PhD, I will affectionately refer to him as “Doc.”

Now on to the story. A number of years ago, Doc and a couple of friends from his church decided to do some extreme male-bonding. They decided to run a marathon together. Doc had jogged regularly for some time, but he had never run anything close to 26.2 miles before. So, he and his friends spent several months training and preparing for the marathon.

When the big day arrived, things went well at first. Doc and his friends ran together for quite some time. They reached several important milestones without a hitch. Five miles, ten miles, fifteen -- no problem. But soon after the fifteenth mile, Doc began to get tired and to lag behind his two friends. “Go ahead without me,” he told them, “I’ll be fine.” And so they did.

Around the 20-mile mark, Doc’s energy was just about spent. Before long, he knew that he could not make it. His goal of crossing the finish line was to go unrealized. But just as he was about to jog over to the side and stop running, he caught sight of one of his friends jogging toward him. This friend had already finished the marathon and had then run several miles back just to check on Doc.

When Doc saw his friend coming toward him, his eyes brightened. “How are you?” he asked Doc. “I’m not going to make it!” Doc replied. “Yes, you are!” the friend shot back. “Follow me, and I’ll take you to the end.” And so, thanks to his friend’s help, Doc did indeed finish the marathon.

It’s that time of Lent again, at least for me. Pretty much every year, I cruise through the first five weeks of Lent, due in large part to the fact that my wife is one of the best Lenten cooks in the world. Nevertheless, when the sixth week of Lent begins, I start to unravel. At this point, I feel like if I even SEE another apple, another bean, another dish of pasta with plain sauce, another peanut butter sandwich, or another bowl of oatmeal or instant grits, I’ll lose it! (And if you even dare say “Try some tofu!” I’m going to scream!)

In short, I feel a little like Doc did when he hit the 20-mile mark. And yet, I know that I am in the home stretch. I know that “I can do all things through Christ, who strengthens me” (Phil. 4:13). I know that “with God all things are possible” (Matt. 19:26). And when I confess my weakness to the Lord Jesus, he, like Doc’s friend, says to me, “Follow me, and I’ll take you to the end.” And so, thanks to my Friend’s help, I know that I can indeed finish the marathon that is Great Lent.

So, my brothers, and sisters, are you struggling to keep the fast until Pascha? Are you feeling like you can’t go on? Are you dying to grab a cheeseburger, a pizza, or even a bowl of cereal? Go to Jesus, confess your weakness, and ask His help. He will lead you to the finish line. Don’t give up. To borrow St. Paul’s words, fight the good fight. Keep the faith. Finish the race. For if you do, when you cross the finish line that is Pascha, what joy you will experience!


Clint said...

I can support the comment that you wife makes a mean lenten supper!

I love stories like that. Can you imagine that his friend ran not 26 miles, but 38? To help a friend. That is awesome.

This is our first Lent (well, the first we actually fasted, anyway). In some ways, I concur with your comments and seriously look forward to a juicy steak or even a little hamburger or something.

But it has also been a good experience. We learned lots of ways to make dishes and even discovered a few new things we like. I also discovered that my wife is just as adept at lenten fare as she is at "normal" food. That is a good thing to know.

I also discovered that we have three family holidays that will often fall in the Lenten season, which is sorta sad... My wife's birthday is mid-March. My daugher's birthday is early April and our anniversary is today.

Nothing like Tofu-loaf for an anniversary dinner... lol

Michael said...

Very good article, Father. Though I have to agree with Clint, Khouria Jennifer's Lenten dishes make me look forward to Lenten potlucks!

I never really understood the whole concept of ascetic contests and the "athletic imagery" of Lent as a catechumen. It was only until I actually got down and started fasting that I soon discovered how difficult it was. After Pascha, it really does feel like you've just ran a marathon.

But in the end, it is definitely worth it - not only for its spiritual benefits, but also material. As Father David Barr spoke in his sermon on John Climacus' Sunday, eggs and chocolate taste a whole lot better at Pascha if you've stuck to the fast faithfully than if you hadn't!

Bless me,

Rdr. Mike