“You’re almost there! Keep going! Don’t give up now! The finish line is around the corner! You’re almost there!”
These were the words we yelled as one woman approached disqualification at an Iron Man race in Madison, WI. For the past 16 hours she had swam over two miles, biked over 100 miles, and was now just yards away from finishing a marathon. The Iron Man is an epic race where if the competitors don’t finish before midnight, it’s as if they never began in the first place.
This woman had every reason to quit, but when she heard our words, her tortoise-like pace picked up. Her head lifted and her eyes became determined, as an army of hundreds of spectators ran behind her cheering, “You’re almost there! You’re going make it! Don’t give up now!”
As we go into Holy Week, this encouragement is what so many of us are desperate for. We’ve taken on a big race during Lent and many of us may feel as if we’ve fallen short.
Maybe we gave up half way through. Maybe it was just last week. Or maybe it was the day after Ash Wednesday. It doesn’t matter when we gave up — what matters is how we finish the race.
Several years ago, I heard a homily from one our chaplains on campus about the true make-up of a saint. “A saint is not perfect or sinless. A saint is a sinner who keeps on trying.” It’s not the number of falls that matter, but the number of times we get back up that counts. Saints are not perfect but perfected by their relationship with Jesus Christ.
We see this in the life of St. Peter the Apostle. There were many times during his walk with Jesus where he showed his imperfections and Jesus had to redirect him. St. Peter even denied Jesus three times on Good Friday — but that wasn’t the end of the story. St. Peter got back up, embraced the mercy of God, and began again.
So as we round the last corner of Lent and go into the final lap, let’s look at a few ways we can finish strong.
1. Go to Confession.
Maybe you haven’t committed any serious sins, but there’s no better way to begin again than by going to the Sacrament of Penance. Lent is a season of grace. When we confess our sins in the Sacrament, God gives us many graces to be strengthened again for the fight. I have many friends who have returned to the Church during Lent by first starting over and going to Confession. In fact, when you go, bring a friend!
2. Begin again on your Lenten resolutions.
You don’t have to be flashy to be faithful. St. Luke exclaims, “He who is faithful in little things is faithful also in much.” (Luke 16:10). Make a time to pray every day, read the Bible, fast from something you love, go and serve those in need, or give a donation to your parish or Catholic center. These are some of the small practices that done with great faith and love can be the spiritual renewal you need going into Easter.
3. Get an accountability partner.
If you want to be a disciple of Jesus, you need someone to run this race with. On your own, if you fall, there will be no one there to get you back up again. Find a few friends that will keep you accountable to your resolutions. Make sure these friends push you to go beyond your comfort zone and encourage you in your darkest moments. These friends remind you that you were made for greatness. Saints always came in bunches, so find grab your friends and get holy together.
“You’re almost there!”
That woman heard our encouragement as we pushed her to go for more. She found something in her in the midst of exhaustion and disappointment to go into a full out sprint to finish the race. She finished one second before midnight and now reigns as an Iron Man champion. As we begin Holy Week, may we “run so as to win” (1 Corinthians 9:24) and finish strong, pushing hard the last few hundred yards to hold our head high, knowing we “left it all on the field.”
Leave it all at Jesus’ feet this Holy week. It will make His Resurrection on Easter Sunday all the sweeter!