This past year I ran my first marathon. As I ran I continued to chart my progress and endurance. Each mile marker rendered judgment against my goals. How am I doing? How will I finish?
The marathon is a fitting analogy for life. With the passing of each year there is a mile-marker of personal evaluation. There is an opportunity to take inventory, evaluate progress, and look ahead toward the finish.
To be honest, I have not done a lot of the latter. I have not looked ahead to the finish line and estimated my time. Like so many others, I like to live “mile-to-mile” making quick adjustments, taking advantage of quick bursts to make up for moments of laziness on the hills of life. While these inventories and adjustments are an integral part of doing what we set out to do they will not compel us in the same way as look at the end.
A look at the end of our life, the finish line, will bring a couple of things into focus:
First, it forces us to reckon with the finality of it all. We don’t live like we are going to die. We plan, think, and act like we are going to be here forever. But this is folly. Drive by a cemetery. Go to a museum. History is filled with people who lived their moments and then had no more. Our heart is the drum beat in our own personal funeral procession; when it stops the song is over, and so is life. Looking ahead to the end will shake us from the faulty notion that our day to day will be our eternity to eternity.
Second, it forces us to consider what we want to leave behind. What kind of influence do we want to have? What do we want to be said of our lives? I am not talking about being famous or envied or anything like that. I am simply asking how you want to be remembered. Or perhaps, if you want to be remembered. I am a Christian who is also a husband, dad, friend, pastor and citizen of Omaha, Nebraska. If I die first I want my wife to look at my life and say that she was loved like Jesus loved the church. I want her to happily look back at the miles of life and smile. I want to impact my family for generations. I want the gospel to take ahold of my kids, grandchildren, and great-grandchildren. I want them to be more faithful Christians than I have been. I want my friends to be better off for having been my friend. I want to help them love and serve Christ. I don’t want our church to dwindle and die when I die. I want it to be an enduring beacon of light in our city for generations. I want Omaha to be transformed by a movement of the gospel that brings great renewal and joy. I want that to outrun me and my life. How do I work to make this happen? I can’t simply look at the mile markers, I have to look at the finish line and work backwards. Looking at how I want to end forces me to make tough decisions along the route that are consistent with my overarching goals.
This year I turn 37. That means, according to the actuaries, that I am at half-time of my life. I realize this may or may not be accurate, but it is nevertheless helpful. It forces me to look at the big picture and to think about what I am doing in light of it.
When I got to mile marker 13 (the half-way point of the marathon) something interesting happened. I felt a relief and a burden. I was relieved that I made it half-way through the course in decent time but I quickly became fixated on the finish line. How was I going to get that time that I wanted? How could I motivate myself through the heat and upcoming hills? I had to make choices in light of the end goal.
Well, here I am at the half-way point and for the first time in my life my great burden is not for what is in front of me but for what I am going to leave behind. It feels healthy. It is sobering. It drives me to stay focused and keep pace. The clock is ticking. Can you hear it on your watch?