With every step forward my lungs burn hotter. The wind whips through my hair and stings my eyes. I gulp for a breath and feel like the air is taken away from me. I’m training for another race. I’m getting out in the mornings – two degrees or thirty – and running. A timer on my phone nudges me forward. You are half way there! It cheerily tells me. Keep going, I tell myself. You’ll be home rinsing off in a hot shower, reheating that cup of coffee, if you can just get through these next few miles. One minute remaining, I hear the robotic voice say. I start counting down from sixty. Every second seems hard, and the only thing moving me forward is the hope that it will be over soon.
I have a internal countdown going in my head. Eleven more hours till we’re both home for the day. Four days till Saturday. Two weeks till spring break. Two-and-a-half months till my school commitments wrap up. Just keep going. Get through this. And gnawing at the pit of my stomach is the conviction that I’m treating my life like an unbearable marathon. My eyes are fixed on my feet, all I can do is count steps to the end of days, weeks, months, seasons. Surely this isn’t what it is meant to be. Surely there’s more than this.
If twenty-six (and-a-half) years on this earth has taught me one thing it is that life is hard. Life is absolutely hard. The days are long, the tasks are many, the burdens are heavy. I know this, and I know you know this. I see the exasperation on your brow as you hustle and scuttle your way across the days. I hear the unspoken coaching running through your head, one more step, keep going, just get through this. And I’m right there with you, wondering how we all got on this never ending treadmill headed nowhere further than the next weekend or upcoming vacation.
I know we will get through this. The daily grind won’t kill us. The six thousand pages of music won’t actually drown us. The uncomfortable conversation will be done and the obstacle that seems so huge will eventually be at our backs. The morning of the race will come. I’ll get that adrenaline rush that (unreasonably) comes with the gathering of thousands of bodies excited to run. And all the moaning and whining that went on for the preceding months will be forgotten as I take off down the path. We will make it.
The thing is, though, I want to do more than make it.
I think you might too.
Another thing I know for sure: this isn’t the last hard thing I’ll encounter. Jesus promised us hard. In this world you will have trouble. The hard things will come. Then they will pass. Then they will be followed by a new hard thing. That is the pattern of this life. And we can live from one point of relief to the next, from one weekend to the next, from one vacation to another.We can live for the end of the work day, the last bell of the day, the lazy Saturday mornings. We can grit our teeth and miserably tell ourselves we Just. Have. To . Deal.
I want option B. I’m done with dealing. I’m ready to live. Even if it is hard. (Which it is. Absolutely.)
Notice how it feels to be alive, the online yoga instructor tells me. I’m in the middle of a tree pose, my muscles quivering under the weight of my balancing limbs. My arms shake as I raise them high into the air. Notice how it feels to be alive? It feels hard. Being alive is hard. But I’m ready to do more than endure it. I’m ready to notice it. I want to be present to the hard. And as I feel it prick my fingers and pull at my heart I also wake to the beauty that is right there, along with the hard.
I take a deep breath and notice how the frigid mountain air stings my nose as I set down the road. I feel the blisters rub against my shoe as I pick up my pace. I feel how the breath feels tight in my chest as I run up a hill. I feel how my knees twinge the longer I go. It is hard and I feel every ounce of the hard. But I also notice how the bird have started to sing and how there’s a tree that looks like it is ready to bud. I see the sun creep over the mountains and feel how every minute it gets warmer. I see beauty everywhere, all jumbled up with the hard.