13 Sep The race is long, and in the end, it’s only with yourself
“He is better dressed than me in his stealth lycra”, “he has bigger calfs”, “he probably has more experience”, “maybe his ride is just starting”, “he had the benefit of me being a target”.
This sequence of thoughts flooded in immediately after I was overtaken by another cyclist on the seafront stretch of my latest ride around our island city.
Compared to my far more naive and selfish self of a week and half ago, I felt more prepared this time to share grace and compassion with any human ‘obstacles’ I might encounter in the cycle lanes on my latest ride.
Yet, as I came to the final straight on the seafront, without warning, I was overtaken. I was less prepared for that.
My justifications in response for why this man was able to easily overtake me quickly and automatically entered my mind.
As we took the bend around by the pier and arcade, and headed inland towards the mini-roundabout, I begun to pick up speed and close in again on the cyclist who had now become my target.
Fixing my sight on this speedy man in lycra, I was then caught by surprise for a second time in quick succession.
This time FOUR streamlined seasoned cyclists — three men and a lady — seamlessly glided from behind and passed both me and my target, in formation, before signalling to each other for their next poetic synchronised move.
A joyful nine miles and twenty five minutes of speed and graciously overtaking others was abruptly followed by this humbling last few minutes and miles of questioning, comparing, justification, and perhaps slight jealousy.
Don’t waste your time on jealousy; sometimes you’re ahead, sometimes you’re behind. The race is long, and in the end, it’s only with yourself — Mary Schmich
These words — normally attributed to Bad Luhrmann’s 1997 classic ‘Everybody’s Free (To Wear Sunscreen)’ — were penned in a Chicago Tribune column earlier that same year. As with much of the advice dispensed by Mary Schmich, there is some profound truth and wisdom in them.
Lifted up in worship
There have been times during worship with my church where, with eyes closed, I imagine myself suddenly being lifted up from that place and time and from the crowd around me, and placed in front of God. Just me, alone in front of my Maker, without a single one of these people who, moments before, I was standing and singing with. That is a sobering feeling.
Who we surround ourselves with and how we encourage or discourage one another in this life matters. And it will matter in the end. But it shouldn’t matter too much.
We live in an age of immediately available ‘timelines’ and windows in to people’s ‘lives’. There is little excuse to not rub shoulders and associate ourselves with other human beings. But it is all too easy to let that accessibility fall into a trap of jealousy — an envious resentment of someone else’s life and a protective reaction over our own in response.
Such comparison can become a distraction from a race that is, in the end, only with ourselves.
Therefore, since we also have such a large cloud of witnesses surrounding us, let us lay aside every hindrance and the sin that so easily ensnares us. Let us run with endurance the race that lies before us, keeping our eyes on Jesus, the pioneer and perfecter of our faith. For the joy that lay before him, he endured the cross, despising the shame, and sat down at the right hand of the throne of God. — Hebrews 12:1-2 (CSB)
We should still find motivation for our race from our ‘large cloud of witnesses’. But not in a way where we spend so much of our race looking around at others — whether next to us, behind or in front — that they become our guide, that they direct the path that we take, that they cause us to trip over ourselves and run into others, that we miss out on the views beyond them, that we are always behind — or at best to the side — and never ahead.
Our direction should not be determined, and speed not set, by constantly looking to the left or to the right, by twisting our shoulders and head back to look behind us, or by fixing our eyes on a target ahead.
Instead, keeping our eyes on Jesus, every step of the way, we will not only survive and complete the challenging race — this race strategy will cause us to become lighter and more refreshed as the miles pass. It will present outstanding views along the way. It will enable us to take others along with us.
This race strategy can give us confidence that on crossing the finish line — despite the conditions we have just travelled through — we will glance over and see, with joy, that we have just run our ‘personal best’.
With faith as our fuel, Jesus as our coach, and medal around our neck, we will sit down and rest our legs from this record breaking race.
Noah Looking Back
It can feel like a strange decision to try and generate funding for a charity by writing a blog in the lead up to a bike ride and giving it a focus on faith.
What will other fundraisers think of this? Can it really be a route to reaching the funding target? Is there not more orthodox ways to raise money? Does anyone even read it?
Yet this mini-project started with the simple encouragement that God is more likely to be willing to honour this journey if I am willing to take him along with me. Being sure to have Jesus on board with me, I can be ready for any ‘storm’ along the way and make the shore of Brighton beach my goal.
“By faith”, we are told, Noah built an ark that delivered his family and all species of animals from a flood that caused the remaining corrupt and wicked human race to perish. He did this not because it seemed logical. His motivation didn’t come from a tending hashtag. There wasn’t a neighbour’s shiny brand new ark sitting over the garden fence.
It could have been easy and tempting for Noah to down tools when he saw others around him busying themselves with apparently more important, enjoyable, or ‘normal’ activities.
Yet, Noah was warned by God to get ready and his ‘fear of God’ urged him to see it through, despite what others thought.
We are told daily about how we can ‘live our best lives’ and become better, richer, more peaceful, kinder, fitter and healthier. Yet whatever the popular advice of the time given by others, none of these things will be enough to save us from the trappings of this world, or will be what takes us safely into the next.
It was Noah’s faith in God — believing in Him and therefore following his instructions — that saved him, while those around him who put their faith in anything but, were condemned to a flood of punishment.
God has promised us that we will never experience such a consuming flood again in this world. Yet, seas are surging, rivers are rising, and banks are being breached. He has certainly let in some difficult times. But He has also sent us the solution to it all the storms — The One who has come not to condemn us but to save us.
As I exited the mini-roundabout (only yards from a rainbow painted pedestrian crossing) it became apparent that — all of a sudden — with the five other cyclists turning off on the arm before me to continue their journey, I was once again on my own.
Others around us can provide a great source of encouragement and motivation. Still, we must be careful to not let comparison with others to the side, in front, or behind, become the motivation and guide for our journey.
The race is long, and in the end, it is only with yourself.