Sometime over the summer, my eleven-year-old son, JJ, decided he wanted to run cross country for his school. Actually, that’s not 100% true. He decided he wanted to run track for his school and, as per school rules, runners have to run cross country to run track. So, during the summer, JJ went to running club whenever he was able and then to practices as we entered into the school year.
To be perfectly honest, I didn’t really know what to expect as we approached the first race of the season. JJ has always been a boy of many interests. He is cut from the old cloth of kids who want to do everything. He’s played soccer, baseball, and basketball through various youth leagues, and shown a reasonable amount of ability and a whole lot of determination. Cross Country, however, is a whole different animal. Having run with JJ at least once, I was just hoping he’d finish the race.
A few weeks back, the day of reckoning arrived; it was the day of the first official race of the season and JJ’s first race ever. JJ ran in the JV race. The starter raised his gun to the sky, pulled the trigger, and off they went. I watched and to my surprise JJ pushed to the front pack of runners. He ran around a loop and when he passed us again he was still running with the lead pack. We cut through a forest to the other side of the course and as we exited the woods, there he was again, keeping with the lead pack. He maintained his pace through the whole race and finished in the top twenty-five runners.
I was pleasantly surprised, but I wondered if he could repeat the performance. I got my answer as JJ finished nineteenth and third in the next two JV races. Within three races he had achieved his goal of jumping to the varsity team. Not only was he running faster and faster times, it appeared as if he wasn’t really pushing all that hard to do it. Twice, JJ finished the race, walked over to where I was standing, and said, “That was easy. I wasn’t even breathing hard.”
While some parents might begin to have visions of the Olympics, I was concerned. Having run cross country myself, I knew it was only a matter of time before JJ finally hit the wall and was forced to run through some pain. It wasn’t a matter of if, but of when. JJ has found the proverbial wall of pain twice this season. On one occasion, he pushed through and had a decent race. On the other, the pain pushed back and he ran slower than he would have liked. The good thing is JJ isn’t showing signs of defeat. He is actually showing greater determination and resolve. He has a goal in mind and the prize is what is driving him.
Watching JJ develop as a runner, I can’t help but think of the words of Paul in I Corinthians 8:24-27. He writes about the realities of running a race. All of the runners get to participate in the race, but contrary to what the world often teaches, not everyone gets a prize. He notes that it is the runners who go into “strict training” that are most likely to win. In verse 27 he writes, “I strike a blow to my body and make it my slave so that after I have preached to others, I myself will not be disqualified for the prize.” The point he is making is attaining the prize requires us to endure some pain. The pain can’t be what dictates our actions. We have to focus on the prize.
As followers of Christ, the prize is Christ-likeness. The prize we pursue is being molded into His image. Further, the prize we pursue is the prize that took Him to the cross, the redemption and restoration of the world. If we want to make a difference for the gospel we will have to endure some difficulty. In any race there is the potential of injury or insult, there is hardship and heartache. We must keep our vision fixed on the prize before us. The prize makes the pain worth it.