Last Saturday morning, I failed.
There, I said it. It took a while for me to say it, and I went through various drafts trying to find ways of saying it that might soften the blow to my ego, but in the end it just needs to be said. I failed.
Nothing in the week preceding the run indicated the failure that awaited. I kept my training schedule, and on Thursday I even ran 3 miles at an 8:29 pace, which was a personal best. Saturday morning I woke up feeling well, motivated, and certain that I would improve on my time and distance from the previous Saturday. Clarke and I were to run 11 miles, and I was shooting for a 9:20 pace. I woke up on Saturday weighing in at 195.6 pounds, a ten pound loss since beginning this regimen. All the signs were good.
The run was going well until mile 4, when I began feeling more fatigue than I should in my legs. My breathing became more labored at about mile 7, prompting Clarke to advise, “Notice your breathing; you’re breathing too hard.” Just a little short of mile 9, I had to quit. We were about as far as we could be from the parking lot, which meant the “walk of shame” would be lengthy.
The predictable voices in my head came in right on cue: “Your goals are too lofty,” “You’re no athlete,” “What made you think you could run that fast,” and on and on. On this day, however, those voices were countered by another one. Clarke and I began talking as we made the long journey back to the cars. I let him know how disappointed I was. He said he had made very similar walks from failed training days, recounting one incident that involved jumping a fence and calling his wife to come pick him up. I said I felt like perhaps it was the couple of beverages I had enjoyed the previous night at the Belcourt with Kim. He nodded knowingly and let me know that he had been down that road as well. I said I thought maybe I over-trained on Thursday, running way too fast. He said he had the same problem, and tried training just three days instead of four, which seemed to work for him.
It went on like that for a while: steady footfalls on the warm pavement, Clarke hearing my confessions and letting me know that he had walked all those roads as well, and still did, sharing what can only be described as grace while we traveled in the shadow of failure.
At some point we began talking about other things: family, faith, movies, basketball. Eventually we were in the parking lot. As we stood there, it became clear that the journey we had just taken was, for me, journey from shame to hope. The failure was real, to be sure, but the hope generated from the experience of the community of a fellow sojourner was real as well, and more powerful.
The Lenten walk means, if it means anything, that we are sustained in the midst of our brokenness, failure, and shame by the One who “offered up prayers and supplications, with loud cries and tears, to the God who was able to save him from death…”
Theologian Jurgen Moltmann calls the God revealed in the Christ who journeys through broken humanity “The Crucified God.” I believe more and more along with Dietrich Bonhoeffer that “only the suffering God can help.” It is this God who travels with us on the road that leads from failure and shame to hope. The desperate cries of a world that includes suffering in the Sudan, spilled blood and endless conflict in the Middle East, dramatically rising levels of poverty in this country, and a global economy reeling from recession; these cries rise to a God who knows, and feels, and suffers with this world.
At times, I want God to move more decisively. I want God to intervene and set things to rights. I scream for a God of justice. There are times when this God who suffers with and journeys alongside us just doesn’t seem powerful enough to change anything. I cry, along with the psalmist, “Oh that you would tear open the heavens, and come down!”
But then I find myself wandering on some long road of failure or other, trying to find my way home, feeling alone. I look up and find, in the community of faith, in the quiet conversation with a friend, in the smile of a child, in the swinging of a Habitat for Humanity hammer, in the table-talk with a homeless guest, in the silent strength of an AIDS ministry, in the confident prayer of a hospice chaplain, and in countless small acts of defiant hope, that I am caught up again in the mystery of God-with-us.
It is enough.