I was recently at my daughter’s cross country meet. She’s not the fastest runner, but she’s not the end of the line either. I got there in time to watch the girls start, leave the track, and head into the woods. It’s another 10 minutes before we see them pop back out again and onto the track. There’s time for swigging the warm coffee from my thermos on a chilly, New England, autumn afternoon and catching up with some other cross country parents.
I’m always amazed and encouraged to see many supportive parents in our community come out for this. Admittedly, I usually don’t make the away meets, but it’s very good to see my long-haired little ray of sunshine come bursting through the woods, trying to beat her personal best each time. She embraced running like a champ!
The middle child with a strong sense of independence, this is something where she is really competing against herself.
She can feed her internal drive to do better.
She can feel the wind on her back and see my face at the end of the last stretch.
She can tear down that track dropping off tween stress and angst as she goes.
I so admire this. Walking to the mailbox feels like an achievement to me. She’s a petite girl with long legs strengthened by many years of dance. Those legs wanted to do more than plié and leap (which she still does, by the way). They wanted to see if they could set fire to a pavement. We haven’t set fire yet, but she fiercely takes on each race.
So, as I noticed the first few young ladies head to the finish line, naturally, the cheers were loud and strong. Of course, we’re very proud of those high-achieving athletes that get there first. Well done. And not everyone can be first, or, obviously, it would mean nothing, but the more girls who came out of those woods, the fewer the cheers, the more parents ready to walk away to collect their daughters and go home. And that made me sad.
Now, I realize we are all on tight schedules and not everyone can stick around the full time every time. I get it. I also know that people get distracted and the meet seems less exciting as the last few runners close in. I am very appreciative of the few boys, who already ran, hanging out at the end to keep cheering for every last girl that comes around the corner. These are boys who might not give some of these girls the time of day during school hours, but on the track, there is a level playing field: They are fellow athletes.
What warms my heart, personally, is the group of parents who stay there until the last puffing runner comes out, even when their family athlete has already arrived. I love hearing those cheers. They are few, quiet, and not quite the pep rally of the beginning of the finish, but they
I watch those stragglers at the end. They hear their names being called, and they run their hearts out. They pick up the pace.
The first runners push themselves to place at the top. Sure, they are cheered on to run a bit faster those last few yards, but they also run to make rank.
But the end of the line? They run for themselves, for the bystanders, for perseverance, and for personal best.
Neither is better than the other, but they approach those last 30 seconds from slightly different vantage points.
So it is with probably any sport. This could easily be applied to the sophomore football player benched most of the varsity game. He needs to hear the cheers when he does finally have play time because his play time has to count.
And so it is with us.
When I am trailing behind others in a life lesson, a place of heart healing, an area of character that needs to be fine-tuned in my life, I look ahead to the runners who finished the race first and am inspired. But sometimes, that feels unachievable when I’m still at the end of the line. They are an awesome inspiration, but what I really need are the people waiting it out until I make it out of the woods. I need patient folks who don’t mind waiting the extra 10 minutes for me to “arrive” and who call out my name and let me know this time I got a better score.
Sometimes, I need them to tell me what was holding me back.
Who do we know who isn’t functioning in the top half right now? Who can we stay and cheer for when they improve, even just slightly, and want to finish the race—no matter the obstacles?
I love what the Apostle Paul says here, and I pray I live most of my days with this in mind:
1 Corinthians 9:24-27, Apostle Paul speaking, ESV
Do you not know that in a race all the runners run, but only one receives the prize? So run that you may obtain it. Every athlete exercises self-control in all things. They do it to receive a perishable wreath, but we an imperishable. So I do not run aimlessly; I do not box as one beating the air. But I discipline my body and keep it under control, lest after preaching to others I myself should be disqualified.
Philippians 3:12-14, Apostle Paul speaking, ESV
Not that I have already obtained this or am already perfect, but I press on to make it my own, because Christ Jesus has made me his own. Brothers, I do not consider that I have made it my own. But one thing I do: forgetting what lies behind and straining forward to what lies ahead, I press on toward the goal for the prize of the upward call of God in Christ Jesus.
We need to be cheering each other in the race. It’s a hard race when people drop off the sidelines. It’s hard enough as it is. How can we be more present and encouraging, and where do we need others to come alongside and be our sideline cheerleaders for a while?
2 Timothy 4:7-8, Apostle Paul speaking, ESV
I have fought the good fight, I have finished the race, I have kept the faith.
Henceforth there is laid up for me the crown of righteousness, which the Lord, the righteous judge, will award to me on that Day, and not only to me but also to all who have loved his appearing.