I am always intrigued by photos of athletes in a long-distance race falling over the finish line.
They seem to pace themselves, so that they have spent every bit of their energy by the finish line.
For many amateurs in fun-runs they look like they have had to force themselves to keep going long after their bodies have given their all.
Professional athletes usually manage to find a surge for the last segment of the race.
But whether it is a final surge or a prolonged stagger, it is a common sight to see the runner collapsed, bent over, hands on knees, supported in the arms of their coaches.
I often find myself wondering if the finish line was moved 100m up the track, would they fall down short of the finish or simply will themselves to continue on.
The term ‘‘falling over the line’’ is applied to many other circumstances in which someone has struggled to reach the end of a long and arduous task or situation.
For teachers who are physically and emotionally spent at the end of term and spend their holidays recovering.
For cancer patients coming to the end of a long course of therapy.
For people who struggle against injustice and for their rights year after year and feel like giving up, but press on.
Well, you can count me into this as well.
I wrote two months ago that it was pruning time again.
At the time I said that pruning was the longest activity in the cycle of the vineyard.
Lasting for almost three months, it requires a sustained effort and perseverance to get it done.
It’s not something you can rush.
The most important thing is to start.
To start and to persist.
To not be overwhelmed by the size of the task, but to break the job down into manageable chunks.
We are nearing the end and I must say that, with the finishing line in sight, I am staggering towards the line.
We have pruned through frost and fog.
We have tried to believe that the rain would stop as we persisted in the scudding showers of July.
We have simultaneously had our feet in the puddles and our backs in the sun.
But the end is near. Not a moment too soon either.
The sap is running in the young vines and it drips from the ends of the cut canes.
Soon the buds will swell and the next season will begin.
But I’m tired. Tired of the constant cold, early mornings.
My wrist is sore. My shoulder muscles are tight.
I have calluses on my hands and my handshake can crush the unsuspecting visitor.
There is also a sense of satisfaction and achievement that comes when we cross the finish line.
The apostle Paul gave some advice to his young protégé Timothy, urging him to ‘‘be persistent whether the time is favourable or unfavourable; convince, rebuke, and encourage, with the utmost patience in teaching... always be sober, endure suffering, do the work of an evangelist, carry out your ministry fully.
‘‘As for me, I am already being poured out as an offering, and the time of my departure has come. I have fought the good fight, I have finished the race, I have kept the faith.’’ — (2 Timothy 4)
Whether it is an actual race or the marathon of life.
There is a deep satisfaction and inner peace to be had when we persevere to the end.
May you fall gracefully across the line of your marathon.
This is the gospel, and its good news.
— Brian Spencer, Minister,
Tatura Uniting Church