You’ve all been to the stadium and seen the athletes race. Everyone runs; one wins. Run to win. All good athletes train hard. They do it for a gold medal that tarnishes and fades. You’re after one that’s gold eternally.
(1 Corinthians 9:24-25, The Message)
I was honestly surprised by the nerves I felt. It was a 5k. And a friendly one at that. I had nothing to lose, nothing to gain. We were all there to enjoy one another’s company, to get some exercise and to share in a breakfast. It was, after all, Thanksgiving.
But, there was no denying that I was nervous. As I approached the starting line less than a week ago, it had been months since I’d done any training. I was anything other than the “good athlete” of the scriptures. I hadn’t trained hard. I hadn’t trained at all. I knew I wasn’t going to win. But, I was there to run the race.
The race started and I was running next to my friend and former running partner. We were out front. It was just like the good old days. Then I looked over at her and asked, “What am I doing up here with you. This is crazy!”
The craziness didn’t last long. Less than a quarter of a mile down the road I was getting passed by everyone. Reality was setting in. Yes, this is where I belong in the race. “Settle in,” I told myself. “Find your pace. Find your rhythm.” It was then I remembered why I’d agreed to come out in the first place. It wasn’t to win. It was to be with my friends.
Paul is right. In the races we run in life there is only one winner. Only one person gets a gold medal at the Olympics. But, we all run the race. And, for me, it isn’t how we finish, but how we run during the race.
I’ve run races with my eyes solidly on the prize, doing everything I can to win. I’ve run races where I was there to help someone else achieve their goals. And I’ve run races like Thanksgiving morning, where the only “competition” was myself. Each one has a place in our lives, but I find that most days I’m running against myself. I’m usually able to steer clear of the “big” sins, but I constantly have to be aware of the smaller, inconspicuous, sins that tarnish my life. It’s those sins that no one else may see, an errant thought or selfish desire, which I battle most often. To use Paul’s analogy, it’s the training before the race where I often fall short.
I’ve been thinking a lot about “winning” recently. I’ve been asking myself what it means to win a race like the one on Thanksgiving. I’ve been asking myself what it means to win in completing my doctoral studies. I’ve been asking myself what it means to win as a church.
In every case I am finding that it isn’t about winning, as much as it is about running the race with integrity. It isn’t about being the best athlete, or writer, or pastor. There will always be someone faster, better, smarter, bigger, or stronger. It’s about running the race to win the prize that doesn’t tarnish. It’s about pushing through when things get tough. It’s about what you do when no one else is around.
It is often said that the game isn’t won on the field, or the court, but in the gym and in the weight room, when no one else is around. I, for one, am glad to be preparing for this race with you. And, I am thankful that we are running for a prize that we all have the ability to win.