Every weekday morning, barring illness or Bank Holidays, I drag my weary and protesting body out of bed, usually when it’s still dark outside, in order to go swimming. I usually swim for about an hour each day, managing 2km in that time: 80 long lengths, each measuring 25 metres.

It takes a fair amount of commitment to do this, day in, day out. And at some point in that hour, without fail, I will have the sort of internal dialogue that goes like this:
‘I can’t do this again./ Yes, you can./ No, it’s too much. It hurts. I want to stop./ Keep going. It will get better./ But my lungs are going to burst./ Don’t be stupid. You think that every morning!/ Yes, but it really hurts today. I want to stop./ Keep going. You can do it./ No, not today. I can’t./ Yes, you can. It will get better. You did it before. You can do it again./ No, it’s too much. I want to stop. I’ll never make 80 today. Why am I doing this, anyway?/ It helps keep your blood sugar and blood pressure under control. It’s good for you./ But it hurts so much./ Get on with it. You’ll survive.’

That internal conversation, pretty reminiscent of so many I hold with myself each day, can occur at any point in the hour. Sometimes it’s near the start, as I struggle to get into a rhythm. Sometimes it’s in the middle, as I feel I just can’t carry on. Sometimes it’s near the end when my limbs are tiring. But I’ve learnt that if you carry on swimming, moving the arms and legs and breathing steadily, no matter how bad you feel, you get there in the end. What really matters is the commitment to continue, the awareness that feelings are by no means a reliable guide to anything in this life. Some days, swimming is pure pleasure and I glide through the water effortlessly. Most days, it is work. Different factors affect how I feel about it: mood, tiredness, the water levels, the water temperature, the other swimmers, all kinds of things. But I’ve found that how I feel about it rarely affects the outcome. My times don’t often vary much, whether it feels good or bad. My blood sugars and blood pressure are helped by it, whether I feel virtuous or not. The key is attitude and perseverance.

Luke tells us ‘As the time approached for him to be taken up to heaven, Jesus resolutely set out for Jerusalem.’ (Luke 9:51) The NKJV translates ‘resolutely’ as ‘steadfastly’. There are echoes of Isaiah’s prophecy ‘For the Lord GOD will help me; therefore shall I not be confounded: therefore have I set my face like a flint, and I know that I shall not be ashamed.’ (Is 50:7) It can’t have been easy for Jesus to go to Jerusalem, knowing what awaited Him there. As we remember the battle He went through in the Garden of Gethsemane, where He wrestled with the desire to find an alternative method of salvation (and how often I wish there were an alternative method to keeping fit than exercise!), we are ultimately so grateful that He came to the place where He said “My Father, if it is not possible for this cup to be taken away unless I drink it, may your will be done.” (Matt 26:42)

How did Jesus come to this place? How do we come to the place where we persevere, no matter how we feel? The answer has to lie in keeping the end goal in sight. For me with swimming, that means remembering the benefits of exercise to my health, when I would rather lie in bed and sleep. Hebrews 12:2 tells us ‘For the joy set before him he endured the cross, scorning its shame, and sat down at the right hand of the throne of God.‘ Jesus endured the cross, with all its agony and pain, because He knew the joy that would be His – and ours! – as a result of it. There was, therefore, for Him – and there must be for us too – no turning back.

This is my heart cry
Though none go with me
The cross before me
The world behind me

I will follow You
I will follow You
No turning back
No turning back

This is my anthem
My heart for Your fame
My every move bring
Glory to Your name (‘No Turning Back’, Chris Tomlin)

‘No Turning Back’, Chris Tomlin