Last week was my daughter’s second cross-country meet of the season and the first I was able to attend. In fact, it was the first one I had ever attended. I grew up playing “ball” sports: basketball, baseball, and football. Running and other sports in which individuals compete in “meets” were utterly foreign to me.
In the team sports I’m familiar with, the scoreboard measures success. You win or lose together. A teammate’s good game can compensate for my bad game. Improving in practice and playing better game-to-game only really matters as much as it is reflected in the next game’s score.
I’ve learned a different mindset from cross-country, especially for beginning runners like my daughter. Improvement matters as much as victory. How well is she pacing herself? Is her technique good? Can she trim a few seconds off her one-mile time? Is she pushing with all she’s got to the finish line? Placing doesn’t matter as much as running well.
In team sports like football, the opponent is the competition. In cross-country, you’re your own opponent. Runners must overcome sore legs and heaving lungs and run through monotony. Runners steel themselves mentally for the grind of a race. Instead of game planning based on another team’s strategy or style of play, runners focus on their own habits and preparation. They pursue personal bests and seek to shave seconds off their individual times.
It’s been a learning curve for me to help my daughter practice and prepare.
. . .
My exhortations to my daughter to be steady and strong could just as easily apply to my moods and spiritual disciplines. My reminders to push through the pain readily fit my bad days at work and in dealing with difficult relationships. My appeals for pace fit my work ethic and my role as a father.
A runner is her own motivation, and her success is measured against her last run. So it is with my faith. I am not a good Christian because I am better than someone else. A behavior or knowledge scoreboard doesn’t determine my growth. If I grow, it is because of daily, regular pursuit of God, and it shows incrementally over time. There are no blowout wins. Instead, I must churn ahead with every intention to pour all I have into a strong finish.
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