Each year on the first Sunday in March, the Iditarod Trail Committee lights a small gas lantern and hangs it from the Burled Arch. Called the Widow’s Lamp, it remains lit until the last musher is off the Iditarod trail. The extinguishing of the lamp by the final musher signals the official end of the race. (https://iditarodoutsider.wordpress.com/tag/widows-lamp/)
Life is full of journeys.
Physically, emotionally, or mentally we all experience periods that require endurance, patience, and growth. The tendency to rush a process that refuses our advances and takes its natural time to develop, often unfolding longer than we expect or hope, is familiar to most of us. For some, the start and finish of the journey is perhaps the toughest. For others, the long stretch in between, feeling alone on the trail, exhausted, with no real sign of advancement, is the most difficult stage. Seasons of transition or waiting can be a big part of a journey where there is little light or knowledge of what is to come.
Every winter in Willow, Alaska, dog sled teams start the beginning of March on the toughest marathon trail with whiteout conditions and blizzard temperatures. It is not unusual for mushers (dog sled drivers) and their dogs to push through inky Alaskan blackness, unable to see clearly what lies ahead. Yet, on the final stretch of unforgiving ice after days of remarkable journey, competitors realize the finish line is attainable with the vision of one small hanging lantern: a symbol of completion. I imagine for the musher and his team, sight of the widow’s lamp is an unparalleled prize of his race. When the image of that small light reaches his eyes, he rests assured knowing he is home.
The widow’s lamp on the Alaskan snow trail is an important communication tool. It stands quietly, yet powerfully, waiting to give a message of hope. Through dimly lit glass, it signals success for those who reach it.
Paul refers to following Christ as a long race requiring endurance and undistracted focus. Like Alaskan mushers, we are not to be surprised by periods of waiting, unknown obstacles, hardship, or struggle. Yet, the writer Paul encourages us to “press on toward the price” in New Testament scriptures written over a thousand years ago.
Brothers, I do not consider myself yet to have laid hold of it. But one thing I do: Forgetting what is behind and straining toward what is ahead, press on toward the goal to win the prize of God’s heavenly calling in Christ Jesus.
On days when I get bogged down in “making a difference” in this world, I love reminding myself of the one thing that uproots my performance-based perspective of the journey. Make little mistake, I tell myself, because Christ is my prize. He is my victory. After all my earthly work is done, all the callings and causes, my ultimate and greatest achievements pale in comparison to seeing Christ’s face at the end of my journey. Like the Iditarod widow lamp, He is what will help me finish strong. His encouragement is waving me to the finish line. Christ, the best prize of my highest and holiest aspirations, will provide everything I need to champion the finish. So, managing that final stretch and coming face to face with my “widow’s lamp” will be the greatest moment of a lifelong race.
Maybe today you find yourself on the longest part of your journey, where darkness seems overwhelming and you’re not sure of your steps. Remember, your best prize awaits you.
Remember the merit of the journey in seeing the Resurrected King beckoning you onward. At the sight of the Redeemer of Man, your strength will turn to resolve, and you will be confident in knowing you have finished well. Well, indeed!
I Corinthians 9:23-25
I do all this for the sake of the gospel that I may share in its blessings. Do you not know that in a race all the runners run, but only one gets the prize? Run in such a way as to get the prize. Everyone who competes in the games goes into strict training. They do it to get a crown that will not last, but we do it to get a crown that will last forever.