When I was in middle school I was an endurance runner. That’s right. For my three glorious years of absolute awkwardness I ran cross-country. I was without fail, one of the worst endurance runners you have ever seen. My claim to fame was that I was never ever last in a race.
I was second to last in almost every race.
This tiny victory, the fact that at least one person was still behind me, was what I held on to. Others did not see this placing as a success, but I always did. I was proud because I had stuck it through the race. And though others may have seen me as slow or inconsequential in winning the race, I never counted myself a failure. I never came in last and that was something.
As we think about endurance, endurance through this week, through this life, through our relationship with Christ, I think we can learn a lot from awkward middle-school Meredith.
Whether we work with middle class, lower class, any class students, for a week or for years, so many times we feel just one step above last. The same goes for our (or at least my) walk with Christ. The idea of "winning" the race or even succeeding in placing well seems so out of grasp. As the race goes on, this marathon that we run with God, it almost always feels that we are just one step from what others might call failure. And I think that in the midst of this marathon we can fail to remember why we are running the race at all. If we cannot win in our journey with God, why run at all? If we cannot have what others define as "success," what is the point?
But I think, even as I strain to grasp this understanding, we can continue to learn from my scrawny, bushy-eyebrowed middle school self.
I never questioned why I ran the race.
And I never expected the win.
It wasn't on my radar at all. I simply ran as hard as I could, always giving my best, and rejoicing in the small victories that others might not see as victories at all. I was the kid almost last in every race who ended it like I had won the Olympics because there was someone else behind me. In my mind, this tiny feat was victory.
You see, we aren't meant to be the winner, the one getting the glory. In fact, that honor is set aside for God. We are meant to be the scrawny kid running as hard as we can in a race that so many others think we are foolish for running. We are to be rejoicing and jumping up and down for the small victories that took all our energy even when others think we have nothing to gain. We are not called to “win” or “succeed.” We are simply called to finish the race and finish it well.
New International Version (NIV)
Jesus Prays to Be Glorified
17 After Jesus said this, he looked toward heaven and prayed:
“Father, the hour has come. Glorify your Son, that your Son may glorify you. 2 For you granted him authority over all people that he might give eternal life to all those you have given him. 3 Now this is eternal life: that they know you, the only true God, and Jesus Christ, whom you have sent. 4 I have brought you glory on earth by finishing the work you gave me to do.
Finishing the work that you gave me to do. Is this not what we are called to as well?
And here is the last thing. Sometimes I do look back and wonder why I kept running for three years. I'll tell you what kept me going: my coach. If it weren't for him I would have quit. Without fail this guy believed in me. He believed I was awesome even when I was miles behind. And how true is that for our spiritual race? We have a God who doesn't see our scrawny, slow selves. Look at all of scripture. He uses the scrawny guys. He believes in us despite our downfalls, and when we end the race He will be there to say, "well done."
How cool is that?
So that is my challenge to us today. As we walk or run in endurance a race that tests our patience and our resolve, let us not feel like failures because we can't "win" like we think we should be able to win. Rejoice in the small victories. Don't question the job or God's purpose in it. Finish, and finish well.
I guess sometimes God wants to use the scrawny kid, the kid that comes from the back and has never had a "real" win in their life, to teach us a lesson. :)