IN AND OUT OF TRAINING.
i had a crush on a girl once, which made me do stupid things.
it was 1999, and we had just moved to virginia as my father took up a new church in a small town outside washington, dc. i had just enrolled at liberty high school, all 98 pounds of me, and i was ready for a new start, a new life. that’s about the time i laid eyes on this girl. right from the moment i saw her, i was smitten; she was relatively tall, long dark hair, and olivey-mediterranean hue in her skin. i wanted to get to know this girl. so, naturally, i figured out what extra-curricular activities she was into and i slipped right in, as i’m sure many demi-geeks do to at least glean off the presence of a crush. this is how i became part of the 1999-2000 junior varsity cross-country team.
truth be told, i was a decent runner at that point in my life. i liked running 1) because it was a “sport” where you only vaguely competed against anyone, thus removing any harsh confrontations with your peers, and 2) my dad was an avid runner, so we one more thing in common. i trained with the team and ran in meets for three months or so, and every day got to stand alongside this girl and try my best to seem daper in embarrassingly short shorts and a mesh tank top ill-suited to my spindly little bird arms. i also ended up running 3.2 miles in 19 minutes once, which is pretty decent. i was a champion of mediocrity in high school.
i remember one specific meet a few weeks into the season, some regional mega-run in the next county over. the course encircled a series of fields normally reserved for horse-jumping and shows, which was quite the change for those of us who were used to dawdling around the school premise for 2 hours every weekday afternoon. this particular competition stands out for two specific instances, one that is amusing, yet carries little weight in the great scheme of things, and one that became the stuff of profound analogy later in my life.
the first: i only ever wore boxers in high school. regular cotton ones. and because this was the standard to which i set all other undergarments in my lifetime, i did not foresee the need to reassess my crotchal situation before the race, and the ensuing struggle between my rolled-and-tucked plaid boxers and my tiny tiny shorts was a sight to see. needless to say i had my mother get me briefs the next day so as to avoid future faux-pas.
the second: i bombed that race. miserably. here’s why.:
as i said before, we had always run laps around our school property in training. even when racing at another school’s home turf, we generally lapped their school building, so the vistas were rather limited. but here we were, running through the beauty of the northern virginia countryside on a beautiful saturday morning, fresh air and sunshine all over. the gun went off and the 40 of us bolted from the starting line like a packed of driven wildebeests. i tended to settle somewhere in the front 25% of the runners, so as to keep ahead of the game without expending all my energy in the first few minutes of the race. now, perhaps you don’t know that and perhaps you do, but running can be a very meditative exercise, especially when one is jogging for 20 minutes or so; especially when one surrounded by such pleasant landscape. i’m not sure exactly how long i zoned out for, but at some point i snapped back into the real world to find my coach driving along next to me in a golf cart screaming his lungs out for me to snap out of it. it took another few seconds to realized i had drifted back to the last five runners, and the pack of wildebeest were far ahead of us. once i regained full consciousness, i kicked it into high gear, much to the chagrin of my red-faced coach. i ran the pain into every sinew in my little legs, but alas, it was too late. i scooted ahead of another three stragglers and finished in the last third of the contestants. my coach was livid. the girl was not too impressed. and i was kicking myself that all my training had been wasted on my own inattentiveness.
now why on earth am i telling you this story? truth is, i had mostly forgotten about that experience until this past week as i was preparing for our weekly bible study. the passage at hand was 1 corinthians chapter 9, which i was quite excited to delve into to; verses 9-11 are some of my favorites in the book (even though i had been misinterpreting them for years until i really read them with an open and critical heart). as i was reading the last paragraph aloud, God struck me with such heavy truth through the remembrance of that race over 10 years prior.
paul says to his brothers and sisters in corinth, “do you not know that in a race all the runners run, but only one gets the prize? run in such a way as to get the prize. everyone who competes in the games goes into strict training. they do it to get a crown that will not last; but we do it to get a crown that will last forever. therefore i do not run like a man running aimlessly; i do not fight like a man beating the air. no, i beat my body and make it my slave so that after i have preached to others, i myself will not be disqualified for the prize.”
the profundity of what brother paul was getting at here became crystal clear to me as i recalled that story and how i had lost focus in a rather important race. i became acutely aware of the race we are all running in this life, and how often we act like that poorly-trained runner who forgets he is seeking after a prize. he runs aimlessly, not maneuvering himself into a place of disciplined train. he runs aimlessly. i realized that so much of the way in which we live our lives speaks to how we are training and how we are running. for several months now i have been coming to terms with my own unintentionality in attempting to live out the gospel in my day-to-day life. putting my well-known theory into practice. this is the true test of a man’s faith: how he seeks to qualify the prize that awaits him at the end of his life. i was rather convicted by this thought, that there have been many times in my own race where, looking back, i see how i was simply jogging in place, too enamoured with the scenery to keep my eye on what truly matters. this is a painful process, but it is SO necessary. we need take stock in how intentional we are in seeking to demonstrate the living power of the gospel in our lives at every moment. this intentionality should bleed with love. love for GOD and love for those around us.
as i get older, i’m beginning that hurtful process of sifting out the distractions and misspent energies in my life, and refocussing on the prize of relationship with the creator. even now, i don’t fully understand the ramifications of the process, but i’m comforted by the words of mother teresa: “GOD doesn’t require us to succeed; he only requires that you try.” amen.