The night surrounded me, the black inkiness nearly palpable. I was chilled to the bone, trying desperately to preserve my body heat as I lay curled up in my hammock. Waves of nausea swept over me. The cacophony of jungle sounds only heightened my dread. I felt terribly alone and scared. I had come to triumphantly race through the Brazilian rain forest but now. . .was it all for naught? Would my body succumb to the stress though my mind was willing to go on?
I was in the middle of a 250-kilometer race in the Amazon jungle. International competitors had gathered to challenge the course and each other. I was racing well in this seven-day, self-sufficient race, leading all the women and the other Americans. First, that is, until severe dehydration took its toll.
The jungle takes prisoners; the oppressive heat, onerous humidity, swamps, and treacherous terrain its guards. How was I going to continue in the fight against time, the miles, and my own body? I needed a miracle.
And a miracle I got. Not the out-of-the-blue, lightening flash kind of miracle. But the kind that reveals itself step-by-step. The hardships did not disappear. I did not make an instantaneous recovery. I still struggled to keep anything in my stomach. I dared not look back for the past offered no help. I could not focus on the present for it would demoralize. Rather, I pressed on through the swamps, up the steep slopes, down into deep and muddy ravines, and along narrow ribbons of trail. The prize of a glorious ending drew me, as if on an invisible cable, to the finish.
I think of another who struggled. His prison was in Rome; his captors a government and religious system that took issue with his message. This man, an educated and respected Pharisee turned Christian, never had it easy. Beatings that left him for dead, shipwrecks, and constant pursuit from his enemies did not make for an easy life. He was never safe; always in mortal danger. Surely, had he dwelt on the past or the angst of his present, he would have surrendered.
But he did not give up. Why not? Did he wear a red cape and “S”-emblazoned suit? It’s so hard to understand how—and why—a man under such duress could continue on.
“But one thing I do: Forgetting what is behind and straining toward what is ahead, I press on toward the goal to win the prize for which God has called me heavenward in Christ Jesus” (Phil 3:13b,14, NIV) That’s what the Apostle Paul said. When he penned these words he was in a horrible predicament. He had been arrested and imprisoned. He had no freedom. He could not leave. No chains miraculously fell off or prison doors flew open. He was stuck and his immediate future not looking bright. But he continued his pursuit because he saw beyond the difficulties. He knew his calling and each breath he took drew him closer to the prize.
So, what to do? “All of us who are mature should take such a view of things. . . join with others in following my example, brothers, and take note of those who live according to the pattern we gave you.” (Phil 3:15a,17)