Throughout my life, I've always enjoyed doing things on my own. I couldn't stand group projects. I never enjoyed relay races, and I would rather play Madden '04 on my Playstation against the computer than against another person. So, when I set out to run a marathon, I thought this was going to be another thing I was doing on my own. Once again . . . I was wrong (a recurring theme in my life).
One highlight of running a marathon is that not only are you surrounded by thousands of runners fighting to reach the finish line, but people who are watching from the sidelines are also cheering for you. Had it not been for these 'cheerleaders,' I don't know if I would have finished. Their presence, motivational signs, and encouraging words helped keep me going when things got tough. (By the way, best sign I saw: 'Tim Tebow may have won a playoff game, but he's not running a marathon.')
About a month before the race, I felt called to raise money for Life Teen's Annual Appeal. If someone donated a certain amount, then I would offer up a mile of the race for their prayer intentions.
Knowing that these people were praying for me was extremely powerful, but the privilege of praying for them and their intentions was equally beautiful. As I got closer to the finish, feeling more pain with every stride, I felt propelled to keep going to ensure that they would be prayed for. So, it was both ironic and holy. Here I was, lifting up the prayer intentions of others, and it was their intentions that helped get me to the finish.
The highlight of my race was that my brother Al was also running his first marathon. Around mile 20, as I battled fatigue and a swollen knee, he caught up to me. He was tired and struggling too and we both didn’t think we could make it. At that point, exhausted and hurting, we reached down for something extra and said to each other, “Look, I don’t care what it takes, or how long it takes, but we will get to the finish line.”
And, so we kept pushing forward, motivating each other the whole way. Until, finally, at 5 hours, 6 minutes, and 44 seconds, we crossed the finish line at the same exact time. I get emotional just thinking about it. In our time of need we picked one another up as brothers and kept moving toward our goal.
Although there may be times when we face loneliness, whether by choice or by circumstance, as Catholics we're not asked to walk every aspect of our faith journey alone. This can be difficult for those of us who don't have support at home or for someone like me who likes to do a lot of things by himself. I've discovered though, that as I strive for heaven everyday I need as much help as I can get.
It's your community that cheers you on in this life, encouraging you with their words and actions in the good times and the bad (Proverbs 12:25). It's your community that prays for you and asks you to pray for them that you may stay humble and focused (Philippians 2:4). And it's your community that runs beside you to keep you on the path to heaven (Acts 2:42). We all need community; that's why we don't celebrate Mass, our greatest prayer, alone but with the whole Church.
So whether your 'race' is going well, or each moment is a struggle, I challenge you to become an active member of your community. Start with your local parish, and get to mass each week. You never know if you are the one who is going to need the encouragement, or if you'll be doing the encouraging. Without being involved in community, you may never see the role God wants you to play. He is calling you and has a plan for you, but remember, this journey is not meant to be run alone.