Encouragement for the Middle

Last week, I shared why the middle of the story is one of the most important and valuable parts of our journey towards a goal.  It is well established that the world projects to us a shiny beginning and the victorious end, but it rarely shows us the drudges of the middle.  The middle is where we are formed and changed.  The middle is where we meet adversity and struggle in our quest for achievement.  The middle is vital, but we have to prepare ourselves for what we will find there.  Otherwise, we will be tempted to give up.

As I shared in my previous post, I spent months training for my 100K race earlier this year.  What’s funny, laughable really, is that not once in that process did I train for less than ideal conditions during the actual race.  Upon reflection, I had to laugh at myself when I realized this.  Each training run, each plan about my nutrition and hydration, when thinking through what to pack, not once did I consider that perhaps the weather would not be sunny skies and dry ground.  Spoiler alert, it rained (a lot) and some spots were even icy.  Do you know what else wasn’t crossing my mind when I signed up for that race?  How I was going to keep going when trying to squeeze in miles upon miles in the dark, cold mornings of winter leading up to race day.  Or what would get me out the door on a Saturday morning when I just want to stay in bed.  I didn’t expect or plan for the challenges I would face in the middle.  

We all know they are coming, these challenges or bumps in the road, but why don’t we guard ourselves with resources or a grounding to prepare and help us for when they hit?  Why do I assume my running will always feel blissful with no rain and muck?

As I considered these questions for myself, I turned to the Bible.  An epic story where the action starts from the first page and an ending exists that no one could predict, I was hopeful that it would shine a light on the middle.  It does.

Here are some ways I see that God gives us hope and encouragement about the middle through scripture:

  1. We see people’s middles: While not every detail of each person’s life is shared with us, we do see so many pieces of the middle story in the Bible.  For example, we know how Joseph became in a position of high power with Pharoah, not just that he got there one day.  Imagine if all you saw on Instagram was a photo of him in royal garb celebrating his position?  The middle is so important.  His story in particular shows us that devastating events sometimes lead us to exactly where we need to be.  I also think about Noah.  Imagine if all we saw was a family photo of them post-flood.  We wouldn’t know his story of long obedience and the work it took to survive.  In his story, we see that God is a God of precise instructions and guidance (Genesis 6:14-16).  He cares about the details that will build a hedge of protection around us when facing in this case life-threatening events.  Lastly, think about Christ.  The entirety of the Bible up to his crucifixion and resurrection is the middle of the story.  When I contemplate all the times things seemed utterly hopeless or that there is no way to a happy ending, it gives me such hope that the middle is just that: the middle.  Considering the intricate weaving of each detail, each person, each moment that God works is absolutely mind-boggling to me.  The middle gives me hope that when I struggle in things big and small, I am still a part of God’s big story.  The middle matters.  
  1. The Bible is clear about challenges in the middle:  The Psalms are a place we see the internal struggle of someone’s middle.  Time and time again, we see David struggle and rejoice, question and surrender.  It’s the human condition to feel this way.  I love the Psalms for how they show us this struggle.  There are countless people and stories in the Bible that demonstrate how goals, even ones that come as a command from God, have challenges in the middle (Moses leading the Israelites and their wandering in the desert, the building of the church post resurrection, and many more).  The Bible is clear that these hardships will come, but we get to choose how to respond to them.

Sometimes understanding that suffering will come isn’t an easy solution to plan for.  It is similar to when people tell you marriage is hard when you’ve been engaged for 10 minutes.  You don’t know until you live it.  Suffering can be the same.  What we can plan for in life when we set our intentions towards something, though, is that we (1.) can not be taken by surprise when it is hard or challenging and we can (2.) be conscious and aware of how we choose to respond to that challenge.  I’m not saying we don’t cry or the solution is to just power through.  As seen with David in the Psalms, sometimes the response is mourning and crying out and sometimes rejoicing as we do the hard, right thing.  The point is not to waver from the direction of moving forward with a heart towards God in the process.  Plan for that.  

How did this look for me in a simple example of my 100K race?  Here is how I conciously planned for difficulty in that goal on the actual race day:

  1. I expected a challenge:  I went into that race not expecting it to be smooth.  I went in knowing it would be hard.  Part of this process was thinking through how I would respond when it was hard.  
  2. Ride the highs and problem solve the lows:  My plan for responding was to have fun and enjoy every part of the day when I felt good.  This meant smiling.  This meant talking to others on the trail and high fiving the volunteers.  My plan for when things were hard was to remember they wouldn’t stay hard.  Additionally, I knew that if I had stomach issues or other equipment (i.e. shoes) failure I just needed to trouble shoot the situation.  For example, when it got so muddy and slick I could barely stand up, I decided to walk.  It was frustrating to not move at the pace I wanted to, but it allowed me to keep moving forward towards my goal of finishing.
  3. Have gratitude:  I have much more to say about this, but I truly believe this is what kept my mind right this entire race.  As I ran I did so with such gratefulness.  I thought of all the people in the world who would give anything to simply have the physical ability or resources to participate in the race and used the gratitude that I got to be there as my constant motivation.  

I hope this encourages you next time you fall off track or things don’t go how you want them to as you work towards something.  It is work.  It won’t always be easy, but when we understand the hard season, day, or hour will come, we can be more prepared on how to respond to it.