He is the most dreaded enemy of our existence. He scares us more than any of our other phobias. His hands are cold and unforgiving and his grasp is unbreakable. He is no respecter of traditions nor does he take a holiday or a vacation. His name is Death and he lashed out at my family this week, by taking the life of Heather’s grandmother, Juanita “Memaw” Mitchell. It was not unexpected. Memaw had been diagnosed with cancer eight months ago. The doctors attempted surgery to remove the cancer, but soon determined that there was nothing any doctor could do. Her cancer was too extensive, and her body too weak. So, for eight months, we’ve waited, until finally, on December 27, Memaw left this world of pain and suffering and entered into a world greater than anything we could imagine.
This week has naturally been a time of introspection. It seems that these events readily lend themselves to such activity. I found myself considering the following, “Did Memaw lose her battle with cancer?” Many would say that she did. After all, she was not healed or cured. Late on Tuesday night, however, the Lord began to softly remind me of an important truth, all too often overlooked. In the Christian life, victory is not so much defined by the outcome as it is the process. Let me explain.
We are very much driven by goals and outcomes. That is the nature of almost everything we do. People in sales understand this when commission checks are issued. Teachers understand this when their students take their tests. Contractors understand this when the final punch on the list is completed. Goals and deadlines are a necessary evil.
Our walk with Jesus is quite different. It is not a sprint with a clearly identifiable finish line. It is a marathon, in which the goal is not quite so important. When a distance runner begins a race, he is not thinking about the finish line, he is thinking about the next 100 yards. This really is the Christian life. We do not forget the goal or ignore its existence; we simply concentrate on what is coming up. I’m learning more and more that our life in Christ must be lived in the here and now, not in the there and tomorrow.
The writers in the New Testament understood this. They knew the goal was there. They understood the significance. But they also understood that there is a necessary amount of endurance that goes into our lives. The author of Hebrews said it this way, “Therefore, since we are surrounded by so great a cloud of witnesses, let us also lay aside every weight, and sin which clings so closely, and let us run with endurance the race that is set before us, looking to Jesus, the founder and perfecter of our faith,” We do not win the race by lingering around the finish line, we win the race by enduring the race. Memaw did not win her battle with cancer by beating it; she won her battle by succumbing to it. She finished well because she endured well.
The truth is that some people will overcome the critical illness and some will not. Some people will live long healthy lives and some will not. That is why we mustn’t define victory by the outcome, but by the process. The “Well Done” medal of honor bestowed upon the victorious Christian in the life to come is not earned by crossing the finish line by but by the way the race is conducted. And though everyone is given a different race to run, the common thread in all of our races is our endurance.
I’m thankful that Memaw ran this last stage of her race like a champion. She didn’t complain or throw a pity party, even though no one could fault her if she did. She endured her marathon. She suffered well. She finished her race. And today, she worships around the throne, with no pain, no tears, no cancer. And I have a gut feeling that she has a medal around her neck that says, “Well done, good and faithful servant.”