In the 2008 Beijing Olympic games, Paula Radcliffe and Zhou Chunxiu were top competitors for the women’s marathon.

Hailing from Great Britian, Radcliff was slated to win the women’s marathon. Holding the World Record with an incredible time of 2:15:25, she was a shoe-in for the gold. Sports analysts raved about Paula Radcliffe’s training regime and the hours and mileage she racked up in the gym. Olympic Record, here she comes!

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Chunxiu, China’s top competitor, on the other hand, had an even more grueling work-out. Her trainers had whisked her away to a remote island where she could focus on running a marathon every day. China was sure she was gold.

In the end, neither of these two women would end up with a gold medal. Shortly into the race, Radcliffe pulled up with cramps and would go on to finish 23rd, while Chunxiu took bronze.  Out of nowhere, Constantina Dita-Tomescu of Romania pulled away from the pack and won the race well ahead of the others.

For all of the records won and practice proved, no one could have predicted the outcome. A world-record holder pulling up lame? A marathon race a day and only third place? The unknown winner?

As members of the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints, we are taught how to train for the race to eternity. In our youth we are taught to pray, read our scriptures, and to attend church. As teenagers, we are taught to be virtuous, lovely, and of good report. We go on missions, we share our testimonies, and we share the gospel. As adults, we hold callings, lead Wards, and raise families.

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In the scriptures we read that if we are obedient, we will be blessed. If we do the training correctly, we will win the race.

So, what happens when we pull up with a cramp minutes into the race?

When the training doesn’t equal a gold medal?

When we are faced with a trial and our obedience is not enough?

When we are wondering, whispering, and wailing:  “Are you there God, it’s me, Margaret?!” (Judy Blume, 1970)

Is the obedience, the training—is it all worth it?

If we are all brutally honest with ourselves, we have all had those moments.  It is what we choose to focus on in that moment of doubt that proves our mettle.  Radcliffe pulled up lame in a race she was supposed to win. I remember watching her limping in pain, her face crumpled in anguish and tears. Her olympic dream was dashed.  Chunxiu had run a marathon a day for a month, and yet she still didn’t win. Third place isn’t that bad, but what about all of the work she did? Was it a waste?

I have had doubts.  I have wondered if all of this obedience is a waste.  I have wondered if God really does have a plan for me.  I have wondered if there really is a God.  In all of my wondering, I have come to this conclusion.  The training, the obedience, it isn’t so we can win the gold. It is so we can finish the race. Period.

We cannot know what we are being obedient for until we are thrown into a trial without warning. And even then, we still might not understand why obedience is necessary. But it is in those moments of darkness and pain that our training comes through.

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Do you remember a time when your testimony was strong? Hold to that.

Do you remember a time when your prayers were answered? Hold to that.

Do you remember when you felt the Spirit guide you? Hold to that.

Truth cannot stop being truth. If it was true once, it is still true now.

That is what the obedience, the training is for. To hold on to when all hope is lost.

It is in that desire to hold on—to have faith “for things which are not seen, which are true,” (Alma 32:21) that our obedience begins to make sense.

“… if ye will awake and arouse your faculties, even to an experiment upon my words, and exercise a particle of faith, yea, even if ye can no more than desire to believe, let this desire work in you, even until ye believe in a manner that ye can give place for a portion of my words.” (Alma 32: 27)

Paula Radcliffe has become a hero of mine. She did not win that race. In fact, after Zhou Chunxiu crossed the finish line in third place, I turned off the television. It was only later that I learned Radcliffe even bothered to finish the race. But finish she did. In her moment of darkness, when all really was lost, she exercised a particle of faith. She desired to believe in herself and let that work in her until she trusted in her training. It pulled her through. It wasn’t a gold medal finish. But it was a finish nonetheless.

About Jessica Clark
Jessica Clark is a wife, mom, writer, runner, knitter, and proud Canadian. She graduated from Brigham Young University with a degree in Anthropology, and has been a student of people and cultures ever since. Right now she is busy studying the behavior and cultures of the people of Texas.

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