Last weekend a good friend of mine walked all 26.2 miles of the San Diego marathon. For six hours, 50 minutes and 24 seconds she speed-walked (sped-walked? Anyway, she walked fast), downed power bars and salt capsules, and struggled against record-high heat and a stress fracture in her left foot. Around the 21st mile, dizziness and nausea set in because she forgot to eat at mile 19; her electrolytes became unbalanced, her entire body hurt, and her poor feet were bruised and swollen—but she finished.

After hearing all this, I felt like a slug. I think the folks waiting for the bus along my morning commute should stand and applaud the three days a week I do 30 minutes on the treadmill, and Anna walked until she was so deprived of nutrients that she couldn’t taste salt. Her efforts make my little “exercise routine” seem insignificant.

The editorial in this week’s online edition of Christian Standard reminded me how easy it is to feel this way spiritually. Just as my little exertions pale in comparison with the truly heroic, my “stress” can seem silly compared to Paul’s life of shipwrecks, beatings, and hunger.

However, as is true in much of life, a different attitude changes everything. I can choose to see my friend’s accomplishment as overwhelming or as inspiring. I can feel down on myself because I’m not the same league, or I can allow this knowledge to push me into five more minutes on the treadmill, ten more pounds on the benchpress, or one less serving of ice cream.

Similarly, I can feel unworthy when I look at Paul’s life. But I don’t think Paul wanted his readers to feel like spiritual slugs—I think he wanted to encourage them. Right after he lists the variety of dangers he experienced, Paul describes the one thorn that repeatedly torments him and he shares his repeated prayers for healing. “If I must boast, I will boast of the things that show my weakness,” he writes.

Although I can’t relate to three shipwrecks or days without food, I can certainly relate to weakness. I may not experience whole nights without sleep, but I definitely understand tossing and turning while pleading with God for the same thing yet again.
My exercise routine will (hopefully) never include stress fractures and nausea, and God’s plan for me may not require physical danger. Either way, I feel encouraged by Paul’s struggles—because parts of his race look a lot like mine.

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