The following was written by guest author, Jackie Culley.
“My mind wandered to the people in my life who seem to pass me, those who seem to glide through religion with ease.”
Recently, I ran a 5K race. I haven’t run in years, but a friend talked me into it. It was for a good cause—the Huntsman Cancer Institute where at this writing my young son struggles in the battle of his life with cancer. The cause spoke to my heart, and with purpose, I registered.
Begin with Great Enthusiasm and Hope
The race started with a bang. Some runners began with enthusiasm, encouragement, and excitement, while others went with the attitude of just getting to the finish line. With all the surrounding excitement, I wanted to sprint off the start line; however, I remembered prior races where I had done just that and had worn myself out too quickly. Therefore, I decided to pace myself better.
I hadn’t trained for this race. I immediately started to get frustrated that others around me were so prepared and energetic, and they were passing me. I quickly reminded myself that speed didn’t matter. I just wanted to finish. I wanted to successfully finish this race strong for Riley, my son, just like I want him to do with his treatment to get rid of cancer and to learn the intended lessons along the way.
Even the Unjust Judge will Respect Persistence
After my initial enthusiasm and desire to sprint began to wear off, the first hill showed itself. I began to worry about continuing. I needed to distract myself from the reality of the rigor as I often do when I struggle in my workouts. I needed to clear my mind and look for lessons to be learned in this moment. My mind turned to a parable that my bishop had spoken of the day before.
In Luke 18:1–8, we find the “Parable of the Unjust Judge,” also known as “The Persistent Widow.” The widow begs and pleads with an unjust judge to avenge her of her adversary. The unjust judge is not scared of God and does not have compassion for people in general; however, he quickly grows tired of the widow’s persistence and finally gives her her way. As I understand it, the widow did not get her way because she was perfect and had earned it, nor did she get her way because she was speaking to a fair-minded and just judge. She simply got her way because she was persistent. Hmmmm—persistence. I know persistence. I began to see the parallels between the parable and the 5K race. Here are just a few that stand out in my mind.
Comparing ourselves to Others Drains Energy
There were people flying by me. To a competitive person, this is a problem. We like to be first. We like to be the best, and we like to win. Thankfully, I’m not the 25-year-old who wears a GPS to track my pace and heart rate, and, thankfully, I no longer suffer panic attacks each time someone passes me.
My mind wandered to the people in my life who seem to pass me, those who seem to glide through religion with ease. Keeping the commandments, reading scriptures, and obeying the Word of Wisdom appear to be easy and enjoyable to them. AHA!! It hit me. Just like the fast runners, these people had trained themselves well. They had lived the commandments, studied the scriptures, and obeyed the Word of Wisdom. Over time, and with persistence, they had grown to believe and love these guidelines in their lives and had become masters of their “sport.”
Training is Absolutely Necessary
At one time I was a pretty fast runner, and at times I have been pretty strong in my faith. I instantly recognized the parallel here. I had stopped running, and I had stopped living the commandments, reading scriptures, and obeying the Word of Wisdom. Of course, it was going to be tough. I thought to myself—if you were to take two people, in similar physical condition, and train only one of them with a running program, having that person gradually increase her stamina, lung capacity, and endurance while leaving the other person sedentary, it is obvious who would struggle less in the race. The same applies to living the gospel. I have often asked myself, “Why I am I so horrible at faith and living the gospel? Perhaps I should train. Perhaps I should be more persistent.”
I saw people struggling to finish this 5K. Come on! It’s three miles. Who can’t finish three miles? Either these people hadn’t trained at all, or they were new to running, or they were simply having a really bad day—similar to some of us at times in our quest for understanding and living the gospel.
Turning Around is Not Acceptable
There was one thing I noticed about these struggling people: NONE OF THEM HAD TURNED AROUND. There were many who had slowed way down, but they were progressing still by walking. There were even some who had stopped for a moment to catch their breath with their hands on their knees or to get a drink. However, they were still looking toward the finish line, the race route, or the path. Not at any time did I see anyone stopped and facing backward. Not once did I see anyone turn around and walk back toward the start line. And not once did I see anyone give up, lie on the grass, and say, “Forget it.”
This instantly reminded me that YES, I have sinned. YES, I have made some REALLY bad choices. YES, I had been handed some pretty tough trials, and YES, I had even come to a complete stop. But, thankfully, even in my darkest hours, I kept an eye on the gospel, on Christ. Even if I was looking at Him through my peripheral vision while I was bent over heaving and feeling like death, I knew He was there, and my gut instinct told me that HE was true north. To Him and His gospel—that was the direction I needed to take.
Surround Yourself with Supportive and Righteous Friends
As I ran, I looked for more gospel and life parallels. My mind was flooded with comparisons. When I am running a race, I am surrounded by others who are running a race. We are all united in a cause, and we all have the same goal. This environment makes running fun. Ask any runner you know, and I promise that he or she will tell you that the added energy, adrenaline, and excitement that come from running with large groups of people rather than running on your own makes running a race far easier than doing it by yourself.
When I choose to run a race, I call my friends who I know like to run. I call my friends who are physically conditioned to run. I call my friends who are not just doing it to win the race but rather the ones who enjoy the race and make the race enjoyable because they can laugh at themselves and with me. I do not call my friends who hate running. I do not call my friends who are not physically conditioned to run. I do not call my friends who mock me for running.
I’ve noticed recently that as I have been trying to live the gospel, I have found myself turning to my friends who love the gospel. I have found myself turning to my friends who know how to have fun while living the gospel and obeying its principles. I have found myself turning to my friends whose top priority in life is family and God. Why? Perhaps because I don’t have the strength to drag anyone along with me right now. Perhaps I am not in good enough emotional or spiritual shape to pull myself and others who are struggling down the right path.
There have been times, and there will be many more times, when I am in good enough physical and mental shape that I will seek out friends who could benefit from running a 5K, and I will encourage them and help them finish it, just like the dear friends who have encouraged and supported me emotionally and spiritually through my rough times and in my attempts to better follow the Savior and live His gospel.
There have been many times in my life when I have felt as though I was doing my best but my best wasn’t good enough. There have been times when I’ve been following most of the rules and have been extremely irritated that my efforts weren’t good enough. I could not for the life of me figure out why people couldn’t just love me and accept me exactly how I was. I didn’t see what the big deal was. Here is one thing I’ve learned as I have been persistent in answering this question. When you veer from the path that you claim to be on, people don’t trust you.
Run with Integrity and the Win will Be Sweeter
Another observation I had during the race had to do with all of the places where the route doubled back on itself. In the places where there would be an opportunity to cheat and skip a loop, there was someone standing to make sure no one cheated. This seemed silly to me because being a runner at one time and knowing a lot of runners, I know that going the full distance is very important to runners. If they ran a race and cheated or shortened the route to win, the race would mean absolutely nothing to them. I’ve never met a runner who would cheat during a race; everyone willingly and voluntarily stays on the race route. We all chose to run this race. If we cheated by going off route to shorten our race, we might finish faster, but would the race mean anything to us, anything at all?
If I got to the end of that race and won first place but knew I had lied or cheated to get there, would the feelings I was experiencing be feelings of accomplishment, joy, and celebration? Or would I have feelings of guilt and disappointment and other self-destructive thoughts? So in answer to my question, “Why can’t people just accept and love me the way I am?” I reply, “Oh, they can.” Christlike, nonjudgmental people with no insecurities or issues causing them to feel judged or threatened by someone else will love me just the way I am.
That said, a bigger and more important reason to persist in putting on the whole armor of God (see Ephesians 6:10–18), giving my very best, and finishing with integrity, is for myself. We all know when we are truly giving our best and so does God. We need to be like the persistent runners who finish the race with integrity to the end. In living the gospel, there are no prizes for finishing first (see Matthew 20:1–5). We just have to cross the finish line with knowledge that we did our very best.
Be Supportive and Accept Support from Others
What got me to the finish line was others shouting, “Don’t you stop!” Somewhere around the 2.7-mile mark, there was a crowd of people yelling, “The finish line is just ahead—keep going!” When I teach my cycling classes and we are doing tabata training (high-energy workouts) or sprints, I find myself constantly yelling, “Don’t you stop! Don’t you stop!”
As I have participated in numerous races over the years, people are always on the sidelines who holler cheerful words of encouragement. In my life, as I endure and persist through my own personal struggles, there are always people—very dear, loving, kind, compassionate friends who I believe to be ministering angels here on earth—who have been placed in my path for a reason and have given me this same type of encouragement: ”You can do this, Jackie. You are strong.”
These dear friends have reminded me of the times in my life when I was living the gospel and of how happy I was. They have loved me no matter what and have always believed in me. These are friends who have said to me, “Jackie, don’t you stop!”
The race that I ran that day was for Huntsman Cancer Institute. My son, Riley, had received six weeks of daily radiation there, from July to September, as part of his treatment to cure his cancer. In addition to the radiation, Riley underwent surgery to remove his rib and a surrounding tumor. Riley was diagnosed in March with Ewing’s Sarcoma, a rare and fast-growing bone cancer.
Initially when he was diagnosed, we were told that the cancer was isolated. Three months into treatment, four additional tumors were discovered. The additional tumors were actually there all along, but the radiologist had missed them. Upon this discovery, Riley was told that the cancer was now metastatic, or had spread, making this a tougher journey than it already was.
I knew that my son was strong. I knew he, like the widowed woman in the parable of the unjust judge, was stubborn and determined and most often gets his way. But in all honesty, I had no idea just how strong he really was. Day after day, I have watched him be patient, kind, loving, sensitive, funny, lighthearted, and long suffering. I watch him learning things such as faith, trust, humility, meekness, and gratitude.
Just like the widow, Riley has never, not once, stopped asking God in faith to cure him. In the last 200-plus days, not once have I seen my son be angry with God or anyone else for giving him this trial. Not once have I seen my son throw up his arms and stop trying. Not once have I seen him let this cancer get the best of him. Day after grueling day, my big, strong, compassionate, sensitive, loving, and caring son patiently endures with a smile on his face and a prank in his heart. I have witnessed persistence firsthand. I pray to Heavenly Father that when the treatment ends, I will not have to witness this ever again.
Remember that we Have a Just Judge that Loves Us
Thankfully, unlike the widow, in our situation, we are supplicating a very just Judge who loves us. Our family will continue to be persistent in asking in faith for Heavenly Father to heal Riley of this disease. We will do everything we are told to do by the doctors. We will pray with all of our might. We will do everything that God asks of us, and we will be persistent. And along with being persistent, we will trust. We will trust that our lives are in Heavenly Father’s hands and that He will take care of us in the way that we need.
I know that God lives. I know that He loves each one of us. I know that persistence is the only way to finish the race. Even though we may face harsh judges and trials in life, we have been blessed with a very loving and just Judge and a Redeemer, even Jesus Christ, who will make up for where we fall short, after we have given our best. And it doesn’t matter when we start. God has provided a way for us. He has mapped out a route to get us to the finish line. Our loving Father in Heaven knew that we, as spiritual beings having a human experience, would mess up, get off track, go off course. Therefore, He provided for us a Savior, a Redeemer, a perfect example. He provided us with a training manual. He provided us with our families, the best support groups in the world. He provided us with a restored gospel and with guidelines that provide peace, safety, and protection.
I will most likely never win a race in this mortal existence, but I will persevere, and I will finish the race that matters. I will look forward to being in my Heavenly Father’s presence, feeling of His love, and knowing that I did my best, endured to the end, and was persistent even though I wasn’t perfect.
To learn more about Riley’s recovery process and even contribute, click here.
About the Author
Jackie Culley is the mother of three children whom she feels teach her far more than she does them. She is the owner of Jackie Culley Design and a group fitness director and instructor at a local club. She is passionate about her interests and believes that the essence of life is about faith, love, and trusting God.