Saturday I cried. Our son Zach, now 18 and a senior, ran his last high school cross country race. I got quite the workout cheering for him since cross country is not for bleacher spectators. Running from point to point along the course, I screamed, “You can do it, Zach! Give your last your best!” As he turned the bend and headed for the finish line, he poured out all he had left with heart-pounding, leg thrusting, arm-pumping motion. Embracing his sweat-drenched body soon after, our tear-filled eyes locked as I said, “I am SO proud of you! SO proud!” He replied, trying to hold back his tears, “I never thought I could do it. I broke my personal record.” “That’s OK,” I reassured him, “because I knew you could.” Others on his team saw our emotion, snapped some mother/son candid photographs, and were quick to congratulate Zach on posting his personal best.
His teammate came in first. Zach was 53rd.
Zach’s not a fast runner compared to others but he has improved tremendously since joining the team two years ago, slicing three minutes off his time. Compared to where Zach began, his progress is impressive. I couldn’t have been happier because I didn’t compare him to any other runner. I compared him to himself as he broke his own record, filling my heart with joy overflowing. I can’t help but remember how far Zach has come in the course of his life over the past 18 years. He has overcome overwhelming odds against him.
Zach was orphaned at birth by a mother who drank heavily and tried to rid herself of the precious life within her womb. But our Zach is a fighter—a survivor—a long distance competitor. Delivered two months prematurely in medical conditions like that of a third world nation, not breathing at birth, he survived by miracle. He fought for life in intensive care and again for four years of meager sustenance in a state run, Russian orphanage. Not fed or held nearly enough, he stored food in his cheeks and chewed endlessly, even hours later, not wanting to part with what little he had to eat. During waking hours, he rocked himself back and forth, shifting his weight from one leg to the other, in an intense effort to soothe his human need for physical stimulation. In time, after we brought him into our home, Zach learned to receive love from us and gradually his need for self-soothing, food-hoarding behaviors dissipated. Today, he gets plenty of hugs and all the food he wants. Today, he can channel his energy into something other than basic survival. He channels his energy into running.
As I watched Zach run last Saturday, I wondered how many others were running whose life stories I did not know. There must be others out there, like Zach, who had taken hold of life’s challenges and used running to look defeat in the eye and proclaim, “You will not have me! I will run against you—and I will win!”
A few days later, my question was answered in the local paper. There was another young man with a success story who ran the same day as Zach in another local cross country race. He completed the run, in last place, a whole seven minutes behind the boy in front of him. Most spectators were unaware of his special circumstances and left the course before he saw the finish line.
Last spring, this young man received a new heart from a teenage donor. Following the transplant that granted him a life extension, the young man became determined to run cross country races, despite his slow pace. Why? He compared himself to no one but himself. In fact, no one but his teammates knew of his special situation. That’s why everyone else but the young man’s teammates left the course before he finished. Why would someone wait to cheer for such a slow runner? His teammates had a noble reason. They were cheering for far more than what legs and lungs could produce. They were cheering for the heart of raw courage and sheer determination. They were cheering for new life given.
This heart transplant recipient and our son Zach have something in common. Neither look special and few know their life stories. Neither were fast, but both finished their race, inspiring the few who know them. They inspired not because of fast times but because of fortitude to overcome challenges. These two boys, each with different stories, made me think about competition and comparison.
How we are tempted to compare ourselves to others and compete for position! Who’s smarter? Who’s more talented? Who’s more spiritual? But we never see the whole picture, the whole story. We only see the surface, the shell. Beneath the surface, in the depths of the soul, God sees the whole terrain of our lives. He’s the only one who sees our whole story, our whole cross country course. He knows the hills we’ve climbed laboriously. He knows the slippery slopes where we’ve slid. He knows our every fall. He knows.
Know what I love about God? He’s really into CROSS country. Those who trust in Jesus for salvation are teammates with the assurance of the perfect CROSS country trainer committed to helping us go the distance. He doesn’t compare us to anyone else. Just like Zach compares himself to Zach and the young man with a new heart compares himself to himself, God compares me to me—not to Susan or Lisa or Jenny or fill-in-the-blank with anyone else. God does the same with you. You are unique. So am I. You are on a unique CROSS country course. So am I. God wants each of us to keep our eyes on Him, not on others, following wherever He directs, even if it’s at a far different pace. When we run strong, He cheers. When we grow weary, He encourages. When we stumble and fall, He runs to pick us up. When we veer off course, He redirects. Finally, when the finish line appears and we finally cross, He waits for us to fall into His arms, sweaty and weary, but eager to hear Him say through His tear-filled Father eyes:
“I am so proud of you. So proud!”
“I didn’t know I could do it.”
And He will say to us tenderly:
“That’s OK. I knew you could do it. I have been cheering for you and running with you all the way—from the starting line to the finish line—even when you didn’t see me or hear me!”
WOW! To have a God who runs with you, who cheers for you, who believes in you when you doubt your own value and ability to run in CROSS country and finish well. Now THAT’S a God I love and want to follow!
Thanks for being there, Abba Father, in CROSS country. Thanks for always being there at every turn, not just at the finish line. Thanks for staying with us to the end, even if we’re far behind the pack. Thanks for believing in us even when we fail to believe in You. Help us finish our CROSS country course strong.
Let us throw off everything that hinders and the sin that so easily entangles, and let us run with perseverance the race marked out for us. Let us fix our eyes on Jesus, the author and perfecter of our faith, who for the joy set before him endured the cross, scorning its shame, and sat down at the right hand of the throne of God. Consider him who endured such opposition from sinful men, so that you will not grow weary and lose heart. Hebrews 12:1-3