Today, over two years after leaving competitive running, I have begun to decipher the cryptic comments of a former cross country coach. The words are wise, and they contain meaning far beyond the context in which they were first spoken.
Don’t worry about your competitors. Run your own race.
While running competitively for my high school, I sorely misinterpreted what these words meant. In those days, when my coach would stand with me on the starting line and urge me to “run my own race,” all I heard was “You probably aren’t going to do that well, so please don’t be too hard on yourself.” This, of course, is not what my coach meant. But this is what a young girl, who fed off of competition and was paralyzed by her own insecurities, decided to hear.
I just finished my second year of college, and I am now beginning to see the race that is before me. My race, not the race of the others around me. I came to college ready to better myself and build my successes, convinced that at the end of it all, I would possess the power and prestige that my elite education promised me. I’ve spent two years running that race – the scramble to the top of the ladder that the world, and my peers, and my educational institution told me I should be running – and I felt very out of place. I wanted desperately to compete in the contest of achievement in which the people around me were engaged, and I felt behind and unhappy until just recently, when the words of my coach, which been dormant in my life since the day they were spoken, resurfaced in Hebrews 12:
“Therefore, since we are surrounded by such a great cloud of witnesses, 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, 2 fixing our eyes on Jesus, the pioneer and perfecter of faith.”
The problem is not the race in which I am participating, but rather that I am trying to run it someone else’s way. God put me in a contest of accomplished, educated, career-driven intellectuals, and then He asked me to fix my eyes on Him and not the people around me. I’ve often wished that my competitors were running the same way that God has asked me to run, so that when I look left and look right, I could discern what ought to be done from others around me. God has not done this for me, however. Maybe He knew, like my coach did so many years ago, that if I am able to model my behavior based on someone else’s example, I will. And I’ll never learn to run a race for myself.
Tomorrow, I leave for Rwanda to start the next leg of my race, the one that has been specially marked out for me to run. If look left and look right, I see a sea of competitors running to large cities and prestigious careers, but I know now that that is not my race to run. God has asked me to run much differently, and I am setting out to do so with as much courage and perseverance as I can muster.
Where ever you are at today – whatever race you happen to be running – remember that God has put you there for a reason. Maybe, like me, at times you feel totally out of place –your competitors are outpacing you, and the terrain you are crossing feels too rough or too steep for you to traverse. You look left and right at the people around you, and you are sure you are running exactly the wrong way.
I encourage you to stop looking around, and start looking up. The race you are running and the people against whom you are competing matter nothing. Wins and losses matter nothing. All we can do is run with perseverance the race that has been marked out for us without too much concern for how the rest of the world is running.
I’ve thought about running one’s own race well before; see also my graduation speech from 2014: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=GYNqelq9YO0