I’m not a runner. But I have many friends who are, and they tell me that there are specialized kinds of training and clothing needed depending on the type of running that you’re going to do. A sprinter trains very specifically, as does a marathon runner. Running in a relay is not at all like racing over hurdles. The shoes are different; the course is different; the preparation is different. It is important, therefore, for a runner to know which race they’re in, so they can train, equip and pace themselves for that particular kind of run.
I thought of this recently when sitting in a support group for families who have loved ones dealing with mental illnesses. Leading the group that night was an elderly gentleman, probably in his 80s, who steadily recounted the journey he had been on with his son for more than 50 years. He spoke of the hospitalizations, medication changes, brushes with the law and sleepless nights he had helped his son navigate through the decades. This father was often a hurdler, but mostly he was a marathoner. He had learned that the race is long and hard, and that pacing himself appropriately is critical for his own mental health.
Across the table sat a 30-year-old woman who was there for the first time. Her eyes were wide and scared. As the leader shared his story, tears began to drip slowly down her cheeks. She had come into the room thinking she was preparing for a sprint, presuming that the episode her family had just gone through was a one-off kind of thing. But she gradually began to realize that she actually needed to change shoes, adjust training techniques and be better equipped for a very different kind of race.
Supporting those who struggle with mental health difficulties is not a sprint. It is a marathon. But the good news is that others are on our team. They run alongside us. They coach us. They give advice and encouragement. Teammates certainly include other families who are in the same race, but even more comforting is knowing Christ runs with us. He teaches us endurance and patience and, if we let Him, transforms us into the kind of runners who can finish strong.