Therefore, since we are surrounded by such a huge crowd of witnesses to the life of faith, let us strip off every weight that slows us down, especially the sin that so easily trips us up. And let us run with endurance the race God has set before us. Hebrews 12:1
This verse makes me uncomfortable. A “huge crowd witnesses” is surrounding me while I run this race? This race, that on most days, feels more like a crawl or a meander than an Olympic event? And when I’m exercising, I sweat profusely. I really don’t want God’s saints watching me and my sweaty pits crawl awkwardly by. Can’t I just keep this between me and God?
And who exactly is watching? Mother Teresa, who was canonized by the Catholic church can’t possibly be impressed. I complain if my Keurig goes on the fritz. Martin Luther probably watches through his fingers with one eye open. It might be too scary to take it all in at once.
I stumble, fall down, twist my ankle, stroll, and run this race. My speed and strength is not terribly consistent, but I’m moving. Still, it’s a bit intimidating to think St. Francis of Assisi saw it when I flushed the goldfish I forgot to feed. I am embarrassed to think that the same people who have given their very lives for the cause of Christ are witnesses to my shallow doubts and fears.
If we are followers of Christ, Scripture refers to us as saints. I don’t feel like one. But I doubt Mother Teresa felt like one either. After she died, it was revealed that she had a “50 year crisis of faith” [Time Magazine, September 3, 2007]. She wrote, “I am told God loves me—and yet the reality of darkness and coldness and emptiness is so great that nothing touches my soul.”
Perhaps Mother Teresa and I have more in common than anyone would think. Maybe we all do.
We are surrounded by a great cloud of witnesses. Saints like Francis of Assisi who lived his early life carousing and enjoying wine, women and song. And Martin Luther, who started the Protestant Reformation and at the same time was plagued with crippling depression. Author Brennan Manning wrote, “Define yourself radically as one beloved by God. This is the true self. Every other identity is illusion.” Mr. Manning died 2 years ago. He never beat his alcoholism. The apostle Peter, forgiven and charged with building God’s church, still weanied out and ditched the Gentiles at the first whiff of peer pressure. Paul most likely had depression. David? Adulterer. Thomas? Don’t get me started.
We are surrounded by a great crowd of witnesses, it is true. We are surrounded by the saints of Heaven who lurched and ran and tripped and fell and dusted themselves off and kept going. We are surrounded by the doubters, the divorced, and the depressed who lean forward with great intensity, whispering in our ears and shouting from the rooftops, “Onward! Onward!”
They have finished the race. But if Jesus still had his scars after the resurrection, I suspect the saints do too. Battle wounds that have healed and yet remain as a testament to He who came to “not to call the righteous, but sinners.” Mark 2:17
Shall we run this race together, you and me? I will ignore the toilet paper stuck to your shoe if you ignore my sweaty pits. Let’s just keep going. We have a lot of people cheering us on.
MELISSA MAIMONE brings encouragement to her audiences with a blend of insight, transparency, and theology. Affected by depression and anxiety from a young age, she shares with vulnerability (and plenty of humor!) that a hopeful, joyous life is possible no matter what your circumstance.