Most of the city streets on which I run are pretty flat, but at least once a week I try to run up a nearby hill. It is only recently that I have been successful in running all the way to the top. No, it is not a particularly high hill, and if you saw it, you would probably laugh and wonder what the big deal is. However, in order for me to make it to the top without pausing, there is some strategy involved. I need to be hydrated and properly fueled. If I have eaten too much, lethargy will probably take over. If I do not eat enough, my stamina will be short lived. I also need to be at a point of my run where I am warmed up, but not at the end of the run when my energy is waning. Yes, it is a balancing act.
I ran up this hill a few days ago, and arrived at the top rather breathless. As I waited for calmness to return, I thought how easy it would be to think of this hill as some sort of enemy that needed to be conquered. Often, we do put our struggles in this category. Illness, addiction, or other concerns are often viewed as something that, with enough effort, can be beaten, or at least gotten through and left behind forever. Worse, we don’t think of them at all, but rather we try to just run away, trying desperately to believe there is somewhere else to go.
Yet, even when one hill is run, there is always another, and my need to learn balance is on going, just as most struggles are. Perhaps we should view these struggles in another light. Let us learn to see them not as enemy territory, but as sacred ground where we can learn more about ourselves, and about God. It is often in our struggles where we find a deeper focus and more intense prayer life.
The first time I sung Fanny Crosby’s hymn, “Jesus, Keep me Near the Cross,” I found myself wondering why on earth would I ever sing that? Yet, over the years, I have come to think of Fanny Crosby as one of my spiritual mothers. When I sing of wanting to be kept near the cross, I am singing of my struggles, and of asking for the courage to not turn and run away from them, but to stay close. If we do not stay close to our struggles, we can never be transformed by them. And that is the grand lesson of the cross. Just as Jesus was never left there, neither are we.
Fanny Crosby was blinded at the age of six weeks, probably as a result of a quack doctor efforts. It is reported that she wrote over 9,000 hymns and poems in her lifetime. A friend of mine once told me that he learned to “see” music differently from a blind pianist. I think that is what Fanny has done for me. She has helped me to “see” some of my own blindness that happens when I try to run from that sacred ground of struggle. I will never believe that we are called to suffer just for the sake of suffering, but so that we can learn to see, and thus live more fully into our sacred humanness.
Blessings on your journey. If you are struggling, please know you are not alone. God is with you, and is always willing to give you some good traveling companions. Come, let us go together. We can even sing on the way.
– Rev. Sue Ann