By: Abbey D'Agostino
This photo was taken no more than 30 mins after racing in Rio. All my hopeful expectations for that race turned on their head, yet I could still don ^ this face because I knew the Lord had just done something BIG. I look back at it to remind me that no matter what kind of disappointment, chaos, pain we are in — if we know the power and kindness of God our Redeemer — nothing can steal our joy.
So here I am reminding myself again, this week, as I’m managing a flare-up in the heel that’s been nagging for a few months now. The cry of my heart is, “Haven’t I already done this? Been hurt, run through pain, submitted to the one-day-at-a-time training plan without concrete markers of fitness to trust?” In other words, “I’ve been patient enough…. I deserve to be completely healthy by now.”
In my wrestling, I’ve come across Jeremiah 15:10-21, where this amazing prophet of God grapples with similar emotions. As his people (Judah) relentlessly persecute Jeremiah, leaving him isolated and heart-broken (17), he complains to God: “Why is my pain unceasing, my wound incurable, refusing to be healed? Will you [God] be to me like a deceitful brook, like waters that fail?” (18). Jeremiah, like me, accuses God of failing to protect him — and therefore, questions His power and kindness.
But despite Jeremiah’s (and my) prideful audacity, God so gently responds, “If you return, I will restore you, and you shall stand before me. If you utter what is precious and not what is worthless, you shall be as my mouth” (19). He does not answer Jeremiah’s request to understand why he’s still suffering, only tells him what he needs to do. He must turn back to the Lord for restoration, listen and repent, then walk according to His ways.
Then in verse 20, God repeats the promise he had already made to the prophet (1:17-19). He reminds Jeremiah “…they [Judah] will fight against you, but they shall not prevail over you, for I am with you to save you and deliver you, declares the Lord” (20). God promised to protect Jeremiah, but he did not promise pain-free living – God does not owe him comfortable circumstances. The people may hurt him, but they cannot harm him, because he has ultimate hope and salvation in the Lord.
The same truth applies to my situation – there will be painful*, uncomfortable seasons of my running career, but they cannot harm me as long as I am in Christ. And if, in my pain, I will keep leaning in to the Lord and obeying, he will give me just what I need to “restore.” That restoration may not come in the way or the time I desire. But, to be sure, my obedience will make me “as [His] mouth;” it will speak life and bring Him glory.
What does all of this have to do with JOY? As Jeremiah tells us himself, “Your [God’s] words were found, and I ate them, and your words became to me a joy and the delight of my heart” (Jer 15:16). Obeying God’s Word – even within our hardship and pain – nourishes our hearts. And because we, as God’s creation, are programmed to function and flourish by these words, “digesting” them naturally leads to joy.
So I urge you to join me today – bringing my pains to the Lord, leaning in to listen, and letting his words transform into joy.
*By no means am I suggesting that running through “pain or discomfort” is always the appropriate solution. My comments apply only to situations in which such running is approved by a medical practitioner. If you are an athlete experiencing physical pain or discomfort, please consult a doctor.