Almost every dad knows the feeling.
It’s the crushing, literal weight of another human perched on top of your shoulders as you walk. Sure, it’s cute for the first mile, but then the sweat starts to trickle down your back. Those little hands that have been who knows where start rubbing on your cheeks and in your mouth. The footsteps get heavier and heavier as you plod along, carrying not only your weight, but the additional 10, 20, or 40 pounds on top of you.
I thought we were done with this stage of fatherhood since our kids are 12, 9, and 6. But our recent vacation to Washington, DC, proved me wrong. On two consecutive days, we walked 8 miles and then 7 miles in our nation’s capital, and while most of that walking was done solo, there were a few miles thrown in there when I had a passenger around my neck.
And the extra weight is hard. It certainly made walking harder. In truth, though, I didn’t mind it because I know these days are fleeting. There will come a time soon when neither he nor I will want a shoulder ride any more. The extra weight might have been difficult, but it was still worth bringing along as we walked from place to place.
And so we come to the exhortation about running from the Book of Hebrews:
“Therefore, since we also have such a large cloud of witnesses surrounding us, let us lay aside every weight and the sin that so easily ensnares us. Let us run with endurance the race that lies before us, keeping our eyes on Jesus, the source and perfecter of our faith, who for the joy that lay before Him endured a cross and despised the shame and has sat down at the right hand of God’s throne” (Heb. 12:1-2).
The analogy if straight forward enough. We, as Christians, find ourselves on a race track. And we are to run with everything in us to the finish line, keeping our eyes focused on that which is not only our prize but also our fuel for the race, Jesus Christ Himself. But in this race, there are actually two things that can hamper our progress.
There is, of course, sin. Sin, in the analogy, would be like trying to run this race not on a smooth track, but instead on a trail where tree roots and vines and down branches litter the path. These are the things that can trip us up and make us fall; these are the attitudes, actions, ambitions, and secret emotions we treasure in our hearts that wrap themselves around our proverbial feet and bring us to the ground. And, as the writer of Hebrews says, we should lay them aside so that we can run ever faster toward Jesus.
But there are other things mentioned here that can also cause us to run more slowly. Apparently, every “sin” is “weight” in this race, but not every “weight” is “sin.” In other words, there are things in this life that are not sinful in and of themselves, but instead “weights” that, when we choose to continue to bear them along, nevertheless make running more difficult. This draws me back to the good old daddy shoulder ride.
As I said, I didn’t mind too much the extra effort it took to carry my son down the streets of Capital Hill. But imagine, for a second, how that perspective would have changed if we weren’t on a family vacation, but instead if I was a contestant in a race. And maybe even this race had incredibly high stakes. In such a race, any participant would want to make sure that they were completely unencumbered for the running. They would make sure that all their equipment fit just right, and that there was nothing extra down to some change in their pockets that might make them a bit slower. It calls to mind the near maniacal focus that prompted words like these:
“Not that I have already reached the goal or am already fully mature, but I make every effort to take hold of it because I also have been taken hold of by Christ Jesus. Brothers, I do not consider myself to have taken hold of it. But one thing I do: Forgetting what is behind and reaching forward to what is ahead, I pursue as my goal the prize promised by God’s heavenly call in Christ Jesus” (Phil. 3:12-14).
For the Christian, this is where we start asking the really hard questions. This is where we move, not only to actively battle sin with the good news of the gospel, but to actually begin to take stock of all our opportunities, all our relationships, all our investments of time and other resources. And these questions are not centered around whether or not a “thing” is sinful, but whether or not it actually helps us to run faster toward the goal. It’s in this case that I find the prayer of Peter Marshall to be helpful:
“Save Thy servants from the tyranny of the nonessential. Give them the courage to say ‘No’ to everything that makes it more difficult to say ‘Yes’ to Thee.”
May it be so in our lives, Lord. May we be those who are fleet of foot, unsnarred by sin, and unencumbered by any other weight.