Therefore, since we are surrounded by so great a cloud of witnesses, let us also lay aside every weight, and sin which clings so closely, and let us run with endurance the race that is set before us, looking to Jesus, the founder and perfecter of our faith, who for the joy that was set before him endured the cross, despising the shame, and is seated at the right hand of the throne of God (Heb. 12: 1-2).
The Christian life is a race. Running it requires focus and faith. There is a starting place for all runners: putting their faith in Jesus Christ as Lord and Savior. And there is a specific destination: eternity with Jesus Christ. There is a start and there is an end, but what happens between the two?
The author of Hebrews calls us to run the race with endurance. But each of us must run a specific course—”the race that is set before us” (Heb. 12:1). The terrain affects the momentum with which we run and the effort we exert. The more challenging the obstacles in our way, the more endurance we need.
While sickness, loss, and grief are common in our fallen world, each believer’s specific experience with suffering is unique. Some “races” include heartbreaking devastation and others inexplicable pain and sorrow. The challenges along our courses vary in depth and length; however, the charge is the same for each individual: run the race set before you.
The course of my own life had seemed rather predictable until June 27, 2019, when cancer and I met face to face.
Cancer was not even on my radar until a small lump in my neck turned a just-to-be-safe doctor visit into some very serious conversations. Suddenly, I was forced into a new world of doctor appointments, CT scans, biopsy surgeries, and scary words. Lymphoma. Chemotherapy. Radiation.
To say I struggled with my diagnosis is an understatement. Cancer terrified me and laid hold of my family. I was a mom to four great kids ranging in age from five to eleven. My husband and I had just celebrated fourteen years of marriage. We were enjoying summer fun—swimming, hiking, bonfires, catching fireflies, and eating too much ice cream. We were also gearing up for a cross-town move. Cancer had no place in my plans.
Suddenly. we were trying to explain to the children what chemo is, and that Mom was going to be sick a lot and lose her hair. We even had to answer their sincere question, “Mom, could you die from this?” Like so many others battling cancer, facing that reality was paralyzing and I wanted so desperately to wake up from the nightmare.
So how are we to run the race when suffering is part of the path? Hebrews 12:1-2 gives three practical instructions for staying the course.
When we “run with endurance” (Heb. 12:1) a course that includes suffering, it is truly a marathon—not a sprint. The course is long and hard, and we get tired and discouraged. Endurance requires patience and the steady, step-by-step feeding of our minds with truth.
For me, cancer was a long, hard season during which I could not care for my family as I typically would—no time for volunteering in my children’s classrooms, and almost no capacity for cooking and cleaning, or even for story-reading with my kindergartner. I was able to endure these losses by meditating, day by day, on these truths: the Lord goes before me (Deut. 31:8), the Lord is with me (Isa. 41:10), and the Lord is good (Nah. 1:7)—even when my circumstances are not.
Enduring suffering requires focus, and carrying extra weight is unhelpful and distracting. While difficult circumstances may not be our fault, a sinful response only adds to the burden we carry. For example, it can be tempting to give in to our fear and allow it to shape a version of the future that hasn’t happened.
During my battle with cancer, I had to stop entertaining anxious thoughts and start tossing the weight of that burden to Jesus. 1 Peter 5:7 reminded me that it was the “mighty hand of God” that had placed me on this unexpected course. Humbling myself and “casting all anxieties on him” helped me to run the race with focus and to “lay aside every weight, and sin that clings so closely” (Heb. 12:1).
While suffering, we have a choice about where to focus our attention. It’s easy to rehearse a narrative that places our lives on center stage and elevates our status as the lead character. The truth of the gospel is that Christ invites us to play a role in his redemptive storyline. Since Jesus is “the founder and perfecter of our faith” (Heb. 12:2), he can give us a new perspective for the race.
Don’t get me wrong: we can’t ignore our suffering. But just as Christ endured the cross “for the joy set before Him” (v. 2), redeeming multitudes of sinners according to his Father’s plan, God has a purposeful design for the course of our lives. The less we focus on our challenging circumstances and look instead at Jesus’ example, the more we develop a kingdom perspective. God can use our suffering as a means of training us to run with greater reliance on Christ.
Within days of my cancer diagnosis, I sat in my kitchen, completely overwhelmed. A dear friend stopped by and saw me sinking under the weight of my circumstances and fears. She spoke with godly wisdom, “Kim, this isn’t anyone else’s race. It’s yours. Run your race.” Especially when God calls us to run an unexpected course, we will need an increase of Jesus and a decrease of ourselves (John 3:30). More of Jesus to help us lay aside the weight of fear, comparison, and self-pity. More of Jesus to tell us truth in suffering. More of Jesus to give us his eternal perspective. There will be obstacles, but Jesus, the Overcomer, will help us to endure.