“The point of a story is never about the ending, remember.
My first Two Oceans 21km Half Marathon (and my wife’s second!) is less than two weeks away, as of this initial
writing. Today however, we are in Week 6, still stuck in the hard work of the middle, with a 15km long run
coming this weekend. Ugh! Training (and life) is hard!
I naively registered this past December for my first Two Oceans 21km Half Marathon with the initial aim of running with my wife as she trained for her second Two Oceans, an idealistic gesture from a loving husband. Before we even started training, and were simply trying to stave off the inevitable December holiday weight gain, my wife kindly pointed out that I would never make it through 8 weeks of hard training if I were not also running for myself, a personal goal that I wished to attain. Somewhat offended that my loving naiveté was being exposed, I initially resisted.
And then I began to train, running with consistency and purpose for the first time since my early teenage days over twenty years ago. Almost immediately, several realities became crystal clear:
One of my favourite writers, Donald Miller, memorably describes this process as “the hard work of the
middle,” observing the following:
“It’s like this when you live a story: The first part happens fast. You throw yourself into the narrative, and you’re finally out in the water; the shore is pushing off behind you and the trees are getting smaller. The distant shore doesn’t seem so far, and you can feel the resolution coming, the feeling of getting out of your boat and walking the distant beach. You think the thing is going to happen fast, that you’ll paddle for a bit and arrive on the other side by lunch. But the truth is, it isn’t going to be over soon. The reward you get from a story is always less than you thought it would be, and the work is harder than you imagined. The point of a story is never about the ending, remember. It’s about your character getting molded in the hard work of the middle.”
(Donald Miller, A Million Miles In A Thousand Years, pp. 177-178)
I wish Miller’s words were less true than they are, less descriptive of my reality; but they hit home with the force of a ton of bricks. I love the ending of an epic story, conveniently forgetting the difficult, nearly impossible journey that the protagonist went through to arrive at that finish line. My spirit soars when an Olympic athlete finishes a race, looks to the scoreboard, and realises that their time was the best in the world, that they have just won an Olympic gold medal. As I celebrate alongside their joyous disbelief from the comfort of my living room couch, I have no memories flooding my mind of the thousands of hours they swam in the cold dark of winter, well before the rest of the world was awake. I have no idea of the amount of sweat, training, and hard work they put into their middle. I only see the victorious result of their ‘hard work of the middle’ as the short culmination of a race; they understand it with a harsh realism that remembers the suffering they have endured that has resulted in the transformation they have long desired.
We are formed in the hard work of the middle, and there is simply no other way forward. Some may skirt this process and even succeed for awhile. But lasting change happens slowly, without drama, and is often unseen. This is the way “Christ is formed in you” (Galatians 4:19b), and the way that anything worth achieving in life most commonly happens. I am slowly coming to the realization of the great beauty in this delayed gratification God has hardwired into our DNA. There is no other way – no better way – to change than the hard work of the middle.
Now, if you’ll excuse me, I need to go for an 8km run.
“It’s like this with every crossing, and with nearly every story too. You paddle until you no longer believe you can go any further. And then suddenly, well after you thought it would happen, the other shore starts to grow, and it grows fast. The trees get taller and you can make out the crags in the cliffs, and then the shore reaches out to you, to welcome you home, almost pulling your boat onto the sand.”