“Attack the hill!!!”, I can still hear Coach McGill screaming to me as I near a foreboding hill in one of my long-ago high school cross country meets. I now get flashbacks every time I encounter a difficult incline in a run, and it brings a smile to my face. It brings back all the old memories of running cross country in the oppressive Texas heat, learning the discipline of perseverance.
Most people do not like to run. I think part of our fascination with the Olympics and with sports in general is that high-caliber athletes make ordinary things look so easy. Usain Bolt makes running fast look like a morning jog. Michael Phelps makes swimming several lengths of the pool at breakneck speed look so natural, as if swimming at that pace isn’t really that hard. And all sorts of other athletes make extremely difficult sporting events look so effortless. We find it difficult to keep to a semblance of a workout routine, but these athletes make it all look so easy.
I’m one of the few people that actually enjoys running, and I think I can safely credit this feat to the excellent coaching I received in high school from my track and cross country coaches. We have a motto in cross country, that “OUR sport is YOUR sport’s punishment”. It’s true. Most people think of running as punishment, and only endure it so they can negate that bowl of ice cream or that extra order of fries.
Part of the difficulty in learning to appreciate running is that most people don’t actually know how to run. What I mean is that most people don’t know the ins and outs of how to approach a run, how to think of it strategically, let alone the actual mechanics of proper running form. Just like any other sport, if you want to get past the basics of running a couple laps around the block, you’ve got to engage in a bit of learning.
When I was in high school, I received a lifetime’s worth of education on how to run. One of the principles of running that I’ll never forget is how Coach McGill, my high school cross country coach, would tell us to view every hill on a particular course as an opportunity to move ahead in a race. Most runners dread hills, and slow down as they go up in an effort to save energy. But Coach McGill would have us train in especially hilly areas to get us used to them so that we wouldn’t fear them. He would repeat his mantra: “Attack the hill!!” throughout our training runs. Instead of slowing down and trying to conserve energy on the hills, Coach wanted us to keep our pace steady and focus on seizing these pivotal moments of the race.
I think most people have the same dread about difficult seasons in their lives as most runners do about hills. We tend to slow down and mentally and spiritually lose focus when difficulties come our way. We try our best to just get past the hill and back to flat terrain.
But one of the things I’ve been learning in my life is that God wants to change our hearts’ attitude about difficult seasons. 2 Corinthians 1:3-4 has become one of my favorite passages of Scripture. It says, “Blessed be the God and Father of our Lord Jesus Christ, the Father of mercies and God of all comfort, who comforts us in all our affliction, so that we may be able to comfort those who are in any affliction, with the comfort with which we ourselves are comforted by God.”
The beautiful and freeing truth is that God redeems what He allows. When we go through difficult seasons, we can either view them as obstacles to be avoided or as times to sink deeper into God’s strength. If we will only open our eyes, we will begin to see God’s comfort in the midst of our afflictions. But too often we shrivel into complaining, bitter, self-centered people when we go through difficulties. We close our fists to God instead of opening our palms to receive His mercy, grace, and comfort.
But there’s more. God often uses the experiences we go through to help other people. I’m constantly amazed at how God will bring people into my life who are going through a difficulty that I have been through before. It’s incredible because it’s a God-ordained moment when I can relate to their difficulty and point them to God’s provision in my time of need.
If we will only learn to attack the hills in our lives, we will see that every difficulty we go through is an opportunity to extend God’s healing and comfort to others. In our moments of vulnerability, God can use us to extend His love to others in a way which would never occur if the race of our lives were run solely on flat ground. God uses the hills to draw us closer to Him, but so often we turn away and become hopeless. What a freeing truth, to realize God wants to transform our difficult seasons into healing and comfort for others.
Think about someone you know who is going through a difficult season. You may be the avenue that God wants to use to bring His hope, comfort, and healing to this person’s life. God wants to restore our lives so that we can point people to the restoration He will do in their own lives. Are we ready, though, to change our thinking and attack the hills?