The cold wind of a late winter afternoon blew against my back, and my stomach was in knots. I sat on the bleachers and searched the field for him. Kids were scattered everywhere, warming up for their upcoming races, and while I had an ear on the conversations going on around me all I really wanted to do was spot Sawyer. I wanted to see his face, to assess from a distance how he felt based on his stance, his posture, his movements.
This is what it’s like to be a mother. It’s like worrying all day about a seventh grade track meet.
He’s injured. He’s been injured since football season, but he powered through basketball and was now about to take on his first ever track meet, and I knew how much he was dreading the pain of it, the slow down of it, the fact that he wasn’t going to be able to run like he normally could. Finally I found him, casually warming up with his friends, looking calm. Looking determined. But we have a heart connection, you see, because he’s mine, and I knew, even from across a football field. I knew his stomach was in knots, too.
He was set to run a mile. The starting pistol marked the beginning of the longest four laps I have ever witnessed. It was excruciating to sit and watch him struggle through the pain, to see him endure the embarrassment. I felt every single step he took.. He never stopped. He kept running, one foot in front of the other, until he finally, finally crossed the blessed finish line.
I couldn’t have been prouder if he had won the race. But he didn’t win. In fact, he got left behind by everyone, and then a few came around and passed him again. But still he ran, agonizing over every step. And I sat there in the stands praying for my child, agonizing over every step, too.
Eric Lidell, missionary and Olympic track star, once said that when he ran he felt God’s pleasure. Oddly, I thought of him while I watched my hurt boy endure, step by step around that track. I wondered how God might view a race like this one, where one is so badly outmatched in every way. Is God pleased when we limp around the track? Does He take pleasure in seeing the weak persevere until they put a shaky step over the finish line? Metaphorically speaking, I believe the only conclusion we can come to is absolutely. There’s a reason that writers of the Bible were inspired to compare the Christian life to a race. Life is tough. We get hurt, and there is no chance to stop and fully recover because each day keeps coming, and we have no choice but to keep putting one foot in front of the other. Spiritually, we can’t let up. We can’t give up. We can’t stop. That doesn’t mean that we’re always going to be running a pretty race, though. Sometimes we will limp. Sometimes we may even crawl, but we shouldn’t make any mistake in thinking through the truths of this analogy: we bring God pleasure when we just keep going. We don’t have to be at the front of the pack. We don’t have to feel like we’re in our prime. All we have to do is trust in Him, step by step, even through the pain, through the struggle. Keep the faith. Run the race.
I’m not sure what God’s thoughts are on a seventh grader with a hamstring problem who struggles through an actual race. But I have a feeling that it isn’t only the Olympic gold medalists who bring God pleasure when they run, limp, or crawl across a real finish line. Because every example of extreme endurance can point us to a deeper spiritual reality: God loves a steadfast heart.