At the end of this week, I will be running a in a local 10k. When the event started a few decades back, world-renowned runner and coach Alberto Salazar came up to the race and set the course record with a still impressive sub-30 minute mark. While I plan to run hard and finish well, I know that even at my very best I will be lucky to come within 10 minutes of his accomplishment. That's humbling. On the other hand, I can also safely assume that my finish will be at least 10 minutes ahead of others on that day. We'll all toe the line together, but some will be slurping Gatorade and greeting their families at the finish while others slug through miles 4, 5 and 6.
There is a principle here. On the road of life, there will always be people ahead of us, and there will also be people behind. No matter what arena of life we look at, some are running a quicker pace than we are, while others appear to be lagging behind. The important factor, I believe, is the mindset that we all take towards these other groups.
The prevailing mindset of culture seems to be to look on those who are ahead of us with contempt. They are seen as the competition, and their success is to be viewed with a jealous, disbelieving glance. We find reasons to discredit their accomplishments and explain away why they seem to be achieving more than we are. For those who are behind us, we are taught in many ways by our culture to look back on them with arrogance, grateful that we are not stuck in the same mire that seems to be entrapping them. We count our lucky stars and look down on those who can't keep the pace.
The problem with this state of mind is that we are left very isolated and alone. Jealous of those in front and disdaining of those behind, we are left to relate only with those who seem to be on par with us. Yet if we adopt this way of viewing life, that pool of people will be ever-decreasing.
I believe we are called to live with a different view. Jesus once said that we should rejoice with those who rejoice, and that we should mourn with those who mourn. The Bible calls us to pray for those who are in authority over us and be glad when they are successful. We are invited to carry one another's burdens and encourage those who have fallen. From this perspective, we grow with and learn from those who are ahead. We allow their example to inspire us and to lead us to a better future. We also look back on those who struggle and enter into their world. We become their partners and offer them the strength and courage they need to succeed.
In order to live in this mindset, we have to decide that the size of our heart is more important than our place in the pack. We embrace those who are ahead and those who are behind as fellow companions that God has put on this journey with us. And when we do, we find that we all have much more in common than we expected.
You see, here's an incredible thought from the running world. Though Alberto Salazar can run much faster than I can, my guess is that he and I exert the same effort. We both give our all, while one is blessed with greater skill and more disciplined training, leading to faster results. (That's Alberto, by the way) At our core, though, we are both just men who love to run.
So how do you view those who are ahead of you and those who lag behind? Have you inadvertently ended up in a lonely place, unable to partner with those who are either too far ahead or too far behind? Or could you begin today to rejoice with those who rejoice and weep with those who weep? Because if you do, you will never be alone.
While Alberto's record is safe from me for another year, I'm sure I will still think about his effort from that day long gone and be inspired to give my best. And hopefully I'll get to cheer on some stragglers towards the back of the pack, because in the end our goal is the same: to finish well.
May you run this race with a multitude of companions-