Every athlete exercises self-control in all things. They do it to receive a perishable wreath, but we an imperishable. -1 Corinthians 9:25 (ESV)

Each morning, my little boy, who is a daddy’s boy, pleads with me not to leave. He tells me not to go, asks me not to go, hangs onto me like a little monkey, and nuzzles into my neck. He even tears up, and I wave to him from the car as I drive away, and today I saw him wiping tears from his eyes while waving to me.

I’ve been told he cries when I’m gone, and has named one of his teddy bears “Daddy,” so he can hold onto me even when I’m not there.

It’s so sweet, but so sad. And as hard as it is for him, it’s also hard for me to leave him every day. Every tear and plea is like a little cut, a little wound, in my heart, and probably his as well. But I also know that, like with muscle, our hearts can grow stronger through training.

I know that he needs to not only feel safe and secure when I’m physically present, but even when I’m not.

With my son, though my heart pains to see leave him, I keep a calm and upbeat countenance and tone, and reassure him that I’ll come home, as I always do. As I’ve told him every day, “Daddy always comes back.” I also assure him that I am always in his heart, even when I’m not there, as he is in mine.

When we exercise, we get sore as our muscles develop small tears in them, then rebuild to become even stronger, so we can accomplish even more than we did before. And like with muscles, our hearts can do the same, to heal from wounds to become stronger. And God heals wounds of the heart to strengthen us…to build up our capacity to love, to have faith, and to walk in His Word when our hearts and feelings feel torn.

As it is with God, our Heavenly Father, we have Him in our hearts, assured of His love and strength, even though Jesus is not here in the flesh with us.

And when we exercise our hearts to grow love and faith, we do it as part of training for our race that all believers run, to make our Father above smile, as we make our way to the finish line, where God will award us with the crown that will last forever. There is no greater prize or assurance than that!