Charlie Engle’s 27-hour run in North Carolina to celebrate his 27 years of sobriety was an exceptional physical feat, but also offers an inspiring spiritual anecdote for those of us in the Christian faith.
The 56-year-old marathon runner completed his lengthy trek through Dorothea Dix Park in Raleigh on Sunday.
While Engle readily admitted such a long run is not at all an easy thing to do, he said it pales in comparison to the hard work of getting — and remaining — sober.
“The hardest thing I’ve ever done is get sober,” he told WTVD-TV. “It’s so scary. It’s life-threatening, life-changing. Running for 27 hours is nothing compared to that.”
There is, though, a common thread between his run and his sobriety. Engle said there were many times he wanted to throw in the towel, and that has been just as true with his sobriety. But by putting one foot in front of the other, he has stayed the course.
His story reminded me of a passage in Hebrews, in which the author encourages believers to “run with endurance the race that is set before us,” talking about the challenges of living a life of faith.
Hebrews 12:1-2 reads:
Therefore we also, since we are surrounded by so great a cloud of witnesses, let us lay aside every weight, and the sin which so easily ensnares us, and let us run with endurance the race that is set before us, looking unto Jesus, the author and finisher of our faith who, for the joy that was set before Him, endured the cross, despising the shame, and has sat down at the right hand of the throne of God.
It’s so easy to become overwhelmed and distracted from our faith. I wrote earlier this year about my decision not to drink alcohol because Scripture calls us not only out of sin but to set aside anything that “easily ensnares us.”
Endurance is not a momentary burst of adrenaline or a fleeting rush of strength; it is a steady and stalwart “ability to withstand hardship or adversity,” according to the Merriam-Webster Dictionary. Running for 27 hours requires endurance, just like sobriety and just like the Christian faith.
“A lot of times,” Engle said, “people look at the big picture and say, ‘Oh, I’ve got to be sober forever.’ That’s not how it works. You have to be sober today and focus on that. Tomorrow will get here soon enough.”
Engle’s reflections should serve as wise counsel to the Christian.
Solomon wrote in Proverbs 16:9, “We can make our plans, but the Lord establishes our steps.” And in Matthew 6:34, Jesus told his followers, “Don’t worry about tomorrow, for tomorrow will bring its own worries. Today’s trouble is enough for today.”
God calls us to focus on today — to rely on the Holy Spirit for strength for today and to entrust tomorrow to him. Engle put it this way: “I can only run today’s miles today. I can’t do tomorrow’s workout today, or next week’s, or next year’s, or whatever I’m planning. So I have to be present.”
“Addiction was all about not being present,” he continued. “Addiction was about hiding, about being invisible, about having no feelings at all. And running is the exact opposite to that. When I run, I have no choice but to be fully present — good and bad, for the hard times and the good times. I feel everything, and no matter what happens, I get to be present for it. And that is easily the greatest gift.”
The Bible also promises us we will face suffering in this life, and rather than run from it, Scripture tells us to embrace it. In 1 Peter 4:1, the apostle wrote, “Since Christ suffered physical pain, you must arm yourself with the same attitude he had, and be ready to suffer, too. For if you have suffered physically for Christ, you have finished with sin.”
We are armed with endurance from the Holy Spirit, equipped to withstand the hardships our suffering brings. But in all things, God promises to carry us through.
“I’m choosing to put myself in difficult physical situations these days,” Engle explained, “because I know that’s where the best lessons will come.”