I watched at 9 miles as people jogged past looking hopeful, energetic and smiling. Further into the run, the picture looked quite different. Many looked tired, struggling to push onto the end. This was the Milton Keynes marathon this weekend. At 19 miles, I saw a small girl standing beside the track shouting and clapping at everyone who came past: ‘Well done! You’re doing brilliantly! Keep going!’ Pained faces turned to smiles. People who were walking, limping, mustered the strength to start running again. It was amazing to observe. The power of a child. The gift of encouragement.
It brought tears to my eyes. I wasn’t running but it energised me too. Previously, I had been waiting for a friend, Adrian, to run past so that I could encourage him, catch a photo. Now I found myself clapping, cheering, shouting words of encouragement to everyone. To strangers. To people I have never seen and will never see again. The girl’s effect was infectious. Magical. I decided to stay until the end, to clap and cheer, to project belief and hope into tired minds and bodies. It felt like such a privilege. Exhausted runners breathed, ‘thank you’, gave a thumbs up and offered a weak smile.
This girl struck me as such an incredible life symbol. How to inject belief, hope, encouragement into people’s lives , especially people who feel at the end of themselves, of their situations, at a loss how to survive - never mind to succeed. I’m reminded of Paul’s words in the New Testament: ‘Let’s keep going in the race marked out for us, keeping our eyes fixed on Jesus – especially since there are people surrounding us and cheering us on.’ (my paraphrase). God, help us recognise the profound impact a simple word of encouragement can make: it could save a life, a dream, a deepest hope.