It is always sad to me when the Olympics are over, not that I was able to watch very much of it this year for a variety of reasons, but what I did glimpse was, as always, incredibly inspiring. To see women and men from all over the globe seeking to do their best, striving to pour their hearts into the race, very often astoundingly brief compared to the enormity of the work that prepared them for that moment. Regardless of whether a medal is won, it is clear that some are simply spent, frustrated and discouraged, while others are filled with joy at simply being in the moment.
As summer comes to a close, may of us are gearing up for the fall—for a different rhythm and pace to life, in many cases taking up increased responsibilities and shifts in focus. Life can feel every bit like a race, to the end of a project or to the next vacation or simply getting through a bumpy period in life. And just as each Olympic athlete is competing in their own race—not only the particular event they have prepared for, but also within the unique circumstances of mental or physical reality they are experiencing at the actual time of the race—so too, our races are unique to us, unlike anyone else’s even though we may be accomplishing the same task.
Last Sunday the author of the letter to the Hebrews likened our Christian journey to a race:
Therefore, since we are surrounded by so great a cloud of witnesses, let us also lay aside every weight and the sin that clings so closely, and let us run with perseverance the race that is set before us, looking to Jesus the pioneer and perfecter of our faith, who for the sake of the joy that was set before him endured the cross, disregarding its shame, and has taken his seat at the right hand of the throne of God. —Hebrews 12:1-2
What does it mean to run the race that is set before us? Our lives can look quite different during different seasons. What is the race that is set before you right now? Perhaps you are experiencing great loss, or struggling with illness or death. Perhaps yours is a race of building—choosing your life partner or raising children or investing in you career. Sometimes, we don’t particularly like the race that is set before us and would prefer some other race—one that we feel we’ve worked for and suddenly is beyond our grasp or one that we yearn for and yet life hasn’t unfolded in a way that made our dreams come true.
We can spend a lot of energy wishing for another race, but we are encouraged to run with perseverance the one that is set before us. Having faith does not mean that life will suddenly be easy or without suffering. Nor is it something we have or don’t have, like a particular athletic ability or natural prowess. If we’re to follow Jesus as the pioneer who shows us a new way of traveling through life, we see faith as exercising an abiding trust even through suffering, shame and death. Faith is practiced in the living of our lives. Rather than wishing for a different life or getting stuck in fear, we can choose the way of trust—trusting in the goodness of God even in the bumpiness of life, trusting in the original blessing of ourselves and this crazy world in which we live, trusting that love is healing and restoring all things, drawing our race set before us, with all its twists and turns, into that which is life-giving, reconciled and whole and true.
I’ve witnessed the power of running the race exercising trust in the lives of my fellow travelers, and I’ve experienced it myself at times, though by no means consistently. And I affirm with all that I am, that what we discover when we run in this way, is an experience of profound joy deeper than happiness, deeper than disappointment and loss, deeper than success or accomplishment. So my question becomes, how am I running the race set before me and what will help me run it in the way that gives life? How about you?
Hope to see you Sunday!