Then I had babies, gained thirty pounds and could hardly walk across the house—which is not exactly large—without gasping for air. I decided it was time to change things. Keith had jogged since I had known him. My closest friend, who lived just across the cornfield from me, also jogged. Surely I could do this, too, I thought. But I did not want to be embarrassed by how I looked doing it or by failure if indeed I couldn’t.
We lived well off the highway on property not ours, but whose owner allowed us to use it in exchange for the improvements we made to it—tearing down and hauling off a dilapidated frame house, digging a well and septic tank, and putting up a power pole—and for watching the property and livestock for him since he lived a half mile away. We were surrounded by his fields, including a small hay field and larger cow pasture. Neither of those could be seen from either the highway or the neighbors’ homes. So I drove around the fields and measured them with the odometer. The hayfield perimeter measured a quarter mile and the pasture three-quarters. Now I could keep track of my progress.
Nathan was four, so that first day I set him on a hay wagon in the middle of the hayfield and jogged the quarter mile around. When I finished I thought I might pass out, or die, or both. The next morning I could hardly get out of bed, but I did and after Keith left for the meetinghouse I jogged again, but this time I went all the way around plus one fencepost further. Once again I survived. The next day I went two fenceposts past one lap, and the next day three.
The hayfield was a rectangle and I was adding my fenceposts on a long side. When I finally reached the end of that side, I added the whole short side at once making one and a half laps. The day after that I added half the other long side, then the other half and the last short side, making two whole laps. Once I could do three laps I moved to the cow pasture. One lap around the pasture plus one around the hayfield and I had completed a whole mile. I could hardly believe it.
I made that progress in one month and lost ten pounds without even trying. Within six months I was jogging on the highway, a five mile circuit six days a week. I had lost thirty pounds. I was never fast. The best I ever did was the tortoise-like pace of 5 miles in 47 minutes, but it wasn’t the 47 minutes that got me back to my front door that day, it was the fact that I kept going.
Sometimes we expect too much of ourselves. I have known new Christians who expected their lives to change instantly the moment they came up out of the water. They thought sinful attitudes would suddenly morph into godly ones and temptation would be a thing of the past. Once the adrenaline rush wore off and life became routine, their lack of speedy progress discouraged them. No one would expect a person such as I was to run five miles the first time she ever tried, but for some reason we expect that in our spiritual progress. We do have a lot of powerful help, but powerful doesn’t mean “miraculous.”
We seem to expect it of others too. If a person has a failing as a young man, it will be held against him forever. The fact that he improves is seldom noticed, but let him slip one time, even if it has been ten years, and suddenly everyone is saying, “There he goes again.” Many of my brethren would never have allowed Peter to reach the eldership for exactly that reason. Peter’s impetuosity was a problem for him, as was fear of what others thought, even after Pentecost (Gal 2), but he did improve, and those people noticed instead of saying “again,” or he would never have been an elder.
Do you think others didn’t have problems after their conversion? Look at the admonitions in Romans 14 and 1 Corinthians 8. They were still suffering from a background of idolatry. They couldn’t eat that meat without “eating as a thing sacrificed to an idol” (8:7). That problem did not disappear overnight.
Unless we are willing to say that we have reached perfection, none of us believes that it’s how fast we progress that matters. We all believe that it’s the improvement that God judges. Some of us have gone farther than others, but if we have stopped and are leaning on the fence, perfectly content with where we are, God will not be pleased with us. God rewards only the one who is progressing, even if it’s just one fencepost at a time.
Brethren, I count not myself yet to have laid hold: but one thing I do, forgetting the things which are behind, and stretching forward to the things which are before, I press on toward the goal unto the prize of the high calling of God in Christ Jesus. Phil 3:13-14