The smoke fired before the gun. I was in the third lane from the left when it sounded and had to remind myself to be patient. It was only two laps. A brief two minutes and twenty-five seconds. But I was here, running the half-mile event in the state track final for single-A schools.
As I rounded the first turn, I heard my father’s voice in my head:
Hold your arms loosely at your side.
Take nice even strides.
Don’t try to lead the pack right away — pace yourself.
Keep your fists limp and your wrists about waist high.
And give it all you’ve got when you hit the homestretch.
Throughout the season, my father had given me pointers on how to run better, and I listened intently to each syllable, since he had recently trained for and finished a marathon. I was in fourth place when the herd of runners finished the first lap. Dad was standing in the front row, behind my coach, cheering.
For a split second I looked at my feet and began listening to my breathing in order to better pace myself, but as we turned around the bottom of the black ellipse, I looked up. Approximately five steps ahead of me was a large runner who had started out too quickly. His feet looked slower and his breathing deeper, which indicated the possibility of a side-stitch. I quickly glanced toward the leader, who was no more than twenty steps in front and began to turn on the speed in moderate bursts. I easily took the position of third place and as the three of us rounded the top curve, our easy-paced steps exploded into sprints. In front, I could see two blue jerseys from Pace Academy, and I was gaining on the closest one.
Don’t run neck-in-neck with him when you catch him, I thought. You know you can beat him.
The crowd cheered. My muscles tightened. Jaws locked. Eyes focused past the leader toward the finish line. I ran with all my remaining energy. Gaining. Gaining. Gaining…
But it wasn’t my day to win.
I was ten seconds too late, and somehow I knew that would never run track again.
It was over.
Plain and simple.
My father spoke to me about the race as we drove home that afternoon.
“I was talking to your coach while you were running,” he said, “and we agreed that you had the best stride of anyone out there.”
I had the best stride.
The little kid that usually got picked on.
Suddenly, the white ribbon I held in my hand transformed into red, then blue. In my mind, I had won. I had satisfied my coach and my Dad. What more could I have asked for?
It wasn’t the race that mattered to me or the outcome. It was the way I had ran it. For months I had trained, incorporating everything my coach and my father told me to do. When the time came, I was ready. And I ran.
Each day I run the same race. Not in the same shoes. Not at the same speed. But I run nonetheless. However, my race is not one of replayed childhood regrets. It is a race of faith.
God has called me to an area of service for Him. It is an area, to be quite honest, that I don’t feel entirely qualified to fulfill. He daily coaches me, and I listen to every syllable since He has run the marathon. He knows the layout of the track. And each time the gun fires, I can hear His voice as I run.
You know what I mean. You’ve heard it too. It’s the curiosity that nudges you to call a friend you haven’t spoken to in ten years. It’s the gentle prodding you get when you want to cheer your spouse after a bad day. It’s the energy that urges you to hug the children when they enter the room. It’s the quiet, intuitive cautiousness that pulls you back from a wolf in sheep’s clothing. The searchlight that replaces your candle of an idea.
You hear it as easily as I. However, there is a difference between hearing the voice and listening to it. How many times have you looked at your feet and listened to your breathing in order to better pace yourself? How often have you passed by a scripture passage, heard the Father cheering, and put off applying His coaching to your life?
None of us may like it, but we must realize that God has called each of us to be runners. Not all of us can be sprinters. Some have to run the half-mile. Others the cross country event. But we all must run. We must fix our eyes on the finish, not on the leaders and listen to our Father’s coaching voice as we run:
Hold your arms loosely at your side. (So far as it depends on you, be at peace with all men – Rom. 12:18)
Take nice, even strides. (Therefore I run in such a way, as not without aim…but I discipline my body and make it my slave, so that, after I have preached to others, I myself will not be disqualified. — 1 Cor. 9:26,27)
Don’t try to lead the pack right away — pace yourself. (Let us run with endurance the race that is set before us — Heb. 12:1)
Keep your fists limp and your wrists waist high. (Behold, I send you out as sheep in the midst of wolves; so be shrewd as serpents and innocent as doves. –Mt. 10:16)
Give it all you’ve got when you hit the homestretch. (Run in such a way that you may win. — 1 Cor. 9:24)
And when you burst across that finish line, gasping for air, you will feel the loving hand of your Father on your shoulder.
“Well done, my good and faithful servant,” He will say. “You had the best stride of anyone out there.”