Count the Small Victories (Even When You Feel Defeated)

I’ve often written using marathon and running analogies. There is so much rigor, time, energy, training that goes into preparing for, and running, the long race. And wow. Does 2020 feel like quite the long race! Perhaps an endless race for some of us. There have been some miles that felt short… and others where it felt like I’d never see the next mile marker. Yet, I, we, must continue to run forward, the race marked out for us. For some it may feel like we have trained all of our lives for such as time as this and it’s our time to shine. And for others, it feels like we were just asked to run 26.2 miles without even a practice run, a water bottle, or the right gear. Wherever you are, I get it. To me, 2020 has been a delicate mix of all of these scenarios — but each mile has presented a new challenge. A hill I didn’t see coming. A refreshing water break I wasn’t expecting. A crack in the road and a tumble…

It’s no news that 2020 has been hard. But I was taking the miles as they came, trying to do better and leverage muscle memory with each step forward. However, I was not prepared for the most recent mile, and I can assure you that loved ones around me weren’t either.

The death of yet another friend. One of our closest. My husband’s best friend. Leaving behind one of my best friends and her family. The race that is 2020 took a major detour into a dark valley.

Each day, I find myself searching for small victories. I learned this discipline earlier in the year praying for other friends who had been (and still are) experiencing health challenges. As we all know, the race with a health struggle is anything but an easy, flat road run. It’s filled with hurdles. So when a hurdle is cleared — a milestone reached — no matter how big or small, it is celebrated. After all, a small victory is still a victory.

There is victory within the struggle.

“The horse is made ready for the day of battle, but victory rests with the LORD.” (Proverbs 21:31). I love this verse because it reminds me that we can work as hard as we can, but in the end, it all rests in the Lord’s hands. He rules over it all. So why (or how) do you celebrate the small victories when you don’t know the outcome? Calling out and celebrating even the smallest of victories is an act of practicing gratitude. Gratitude is the very defense that is needed as winds of resistance hit us head on. I have found that there are times I am not “feeling” very grateful, but the act of obediently calling out a praise, no matter how small, can change our hearts. And most importantly, He hears us. He wants to hear us. He hears our cries and He hears our praises. I’m pretty sure when David was writing the Psalms while hiding in a cave he wasn’t “feeling” super grateful. But his cries and his 100% dependence on God — regardless of all that was coming at him — was what carried him through and delivered him out of the pit. His prayers and praises in Psalms also carry us through — even today over 3,000 years later.

And we do know the outcome. We don’t know the earthy outcome, but all the more reason to put on our Kingdom lenses. It’s shared several times over in His Word. “But thanks be to God! He gives us the victory through our Lord Jesus Christ.” (1 Corinthians 15:57).

So consider that each victory has its worth – and leads to something bigger. It may not always be revealed to us what that ‘bigger’ thing is on this side of heaven, so we don’t want to miss the small victories along the way here – the seemingly small opportunities to praise God and be grateful. Maybe it’s as simple as getting up in the morning and being grateful for another day. For us, before the valley, it was celebrating a more promising report from a doctor, and another day spent with our dear friend. Even though the hurdles may appear endless on the horizon, there are indeed stretches of road without them, and when they come, we need to embrace it.

“Rejoice always, pray without ceasing, give thanks in all circumstances; for this is the will of God in Christ Jesus for you.”

Thessalonians 5:16-18

One recent morning, during a time when it seemed the hurdles were indeed coming faster than one could clear, I sat down to pray and found myself starting to play the odds in my prayers with God, ‘Surely, God, You won’t let another tragedy strike in our community…’ was all I could muster. With that, I was immediately reminded that God did not promise in this world that we would not have trouble… In fact, He told us we would. John 16:3 states, “In this world you will have trouble.” Then through His word He reminded me that He is a God of hope and hears our prayers and He knows we want miracles. The rest of John 16 states, “But take heart, I have overcome the world.” While this is a verse I have seen and read dozens and dozens of times, it hasn’t hit me quite so hard as it has in 2020. He has reminded me, many of us, that He has overcome the world. He is bigger than all of this. And how to rest in THAT victory? We rest with faith and hope. Hebrews 11:1 defines faith as “confidence in what we hope for and assurance about what we do not see.” Hope takes us beyond what the earth can offer and gives us peace that life everlasting IS what we’re all in for.

Romans 8:28 states, “And we know that in all things God works for the good of those who love him, who have been called according to his purpose.” In my Christian walk, this has been a ‘go to’ in times of worry and doubt. But in times of tragedy, I often steered clear of this because quite simply put, tragedy is not ‘good’. For some reason, I have not been able to get this verse out of my head these past several weeks. I don’t have the answers for why God doesn’t always heal on this side of Heaven, or specifically how God will work any of this for his good, but I have faith and hope that he will. And that is the victory that I will celebrate today.

“For the LORD your God is the one who goes with you to fight for you against your enemies to give you victory.”

Deuteronomy 20:4

Lord, I praise you that you have already claimed victory on this all. I am grateful for your mercy and your grace. You tell us to be thankful in all circumstances, yet I’m sorry that I find that challenging some days. I pray that when I stumble, or simply cannot run on my own, you carry me*. I ask that you give me endurance to press on with rigor towards the finish line, and regardless of how hard it gets, may I keep going forward, celebrating each small step as its own victory. In Jesus’ Holy name, Amen.

*Here’s a sweet reminder that He carries us when we need it.

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