With a spine shaped like a question mark, metal braces on both legs, and a below average IQ, Forrest Gump learned to run when he was six years old. Walking Jenny home from first grade one day, three bicycle riding bullies call Forrest “stupid” and hurl rocks at him hitting him hard in the head.
“Run, Forrest!” Jenny screams. “Just run!”
He takes off running as fast as his little braced legs can carry him. The three bike-riding punks nearly skin the heels of Forrest when a miracle happens. He breaks free from his braces leaving the road home littered with nuts and bolts.
That’s the day Forrest Gump’s running days began.
From that time forward, Forrest is known around town as a “running fool.” He never walks. He’s always running.
Through the years, Forrest runs.
When he’s in high school, the same three little punks who nearly skinned his heels on their bikes later come after him in their truck.
“Run, Forrest!” Jenny screams. “Just run!”
Just so happens while running away from a threat, he runs into an opportunity that changes the course of his life. He sprints across the high school football field while the team is practicing. The coaches see him. Forrest has no idea how to play football, but he’s put on the team because he can run. His running wins him a full football scholarship to college. On graduation day, he is recruited into the military and eventually deployed to Vietnam. During an enemy attack, his lieutenant orders the platoon: “Just run!” No stranger to running, Forrest outruns them all and is separated from his platoon. Sensing the vulnerability of having been separated from his platoon, he turns around and runs back into the jungle where he encounters his injured platoon members. Not once, but five times, he runs an injured soldier to safety, including his Lieutenant Dan. He is awarded the Congressional Medal of Honor and after serving his term, he runs home to Alabama and his mama.
After the two loves of his life leave him (his mama dies and Jenny runs away again) Forrest does the thing that comes natural. He runs. He starts from his own front porch and runs across the USA. After 3 years, 2 months, 14 days, and 16 hours, he becomes tired or running and decides to go home.
And just like that, his running days are over.
Forrest Gump is one of my favorite running stories.
But my all time favorite running story is straight from the imagination of Jesus. In Luke 15 we are given a jewel of great price: a story of two sons and one father.
The sons run away while the father runs their way. You’ve probably heard it.
The younger son decides he doesn’t want to wait for his inheritance. So he asks his father to give it to him “now.” His father obliges. A few days later, the son thanks his father by running. He runs away from home to a distant country where he squanders his inheritance fast and hard. He runs with prostitutes. The distant country suffers a famine. To stay alive, he must work for a pig farmer. One day while slopping the pigs, he falls to his knees from hunger and out of desperation scoops a handful of slop into his own mouth. It is only then that he has an epiphany.
“I’ll run home,” his guts tell him. “When I see my father, I’ll run to him. I’ll grovel, I’ll beg. I’d rather be my father’s servant than a pig farmer’s slave. Here I am starving while my father’s servants eat.”
So he heads home. Hardly running now. The trip home is slow and arduous. He would run if he could. He senses he’s running out of time. But he’s malnourished and barely hobbling.
While he’s still a far way off, his father catches a glimpse of a dusty figure on the road that vaguely reminds him of his youngest son. This man is much thinner and much slower moving. His hair is longer and unkempt. But still, there’s something about him that is familiar. The father’s eyes squint and focus harder. Maybe the light is playing tricks. He can’t be sure. So he takes a step forward. He pauses. He squints a little harder. Another step.
As his hope lengthens, the pauses in between steps shorten. He’s running full speed now. He could be running toward a stranger for all he knows. Still he runs.
Willing to look the fool. Willing to embarrass himself. There’s a chance his son is coming home. He’ll take that chance.
You’ve probably heard the story a million times. The father embraces his son, puts a ring on his finger, gives him new clothes, and throws a shindig that puts all other shindigs to shame. They party hardy. The youngest son, the prodigal son, has come home. He was lost. Now he’s found. He’s was dead. Now he’s alive.
Here’s the part of the story you may not remember.
The older son, the son who has stood by his father’s side all these years while his younger brother has been out gallivanting, doing only God knows what, comes home after working in the fields all day. He expects a home cooked meal and a little peace and quiet with his dad. To his surprise, as he nears home, he hears merry making.
He learns from one of his father’s servants that his brother has returned home and daddy’s throwing a party.
The older son is incredulous. He has never run away from home. He has never so much as taken a step off his father’s property without permission. And what thanks does he get? His father has never so much as killed a lean calf for him and his friends. Now a fat calf has been slaughtered in honor of his delinquent brother!
The older son huffs and puffs and turns his back on the party. He’ll have no part of it. So what does he do? He turns and runs. Away from the party. Away from his dad. Away from embarrassment. Away from the only love he’s ever known.
It’s beginning to grow dark now and daddy notices that his eldest son is not at the party. He misses him. So he runs.
The father doesn’t care if he looks the fool again. He leaves the party now and runs in search of his first born.
The older son is loaded for bear. “I’ve slaved for you all these years,” he shouts, “while my brother has shamed you all these years! You should be throwing a party for me. Not him!”
The father offers his son a run of ten little words, two sentences:
“You are always with me. Everything I have is yours.”
Can Jesus tell a story or what?
In ten little words and two sentences, Jesus gift wraps the love of God and adorns it with a big red bow. He doesn’t leave it on the the front door step. He hand delivers it to us, runs it to us, his arms and hands outstretched holding the gift. He runs love right smack dab into us. Head on collision.
Jesus was willing to let people run all over him, run their mouths off at him, run at him with their accusations and betrayals and denials, run their nails into him, run a sword through him.
Jesus understood this whole running bit. He knew, intuitively, divinely, that we are all runners. We’re all runaways. Even when our feet are standing still, we still run. Sometimes we run away from home. We’ve been known to run away from danger, from grief, from pain, from fear. We even run away from love.
But the Father says, “No matter where you run, you are always with me. Everything I have is yours.”