I'll never forget it. The Olympic Discovery Marathon 2010. I was doing the half marathon mind you, but this signified my emergence from semi dormancy the previous 10 years of my life. I had entered the work force, moved back to my hometown, gotten married, and started a family and my health and fitness had taken a back seat. But no more baby! One late night infomercial on the "INSANITY" workout program and a beautiful wife who was prompting me to get off the couch and re-live my glory days and I was back on track.
Like many of these overly ambitious ventures, it's nice to have support, so for the race my cousin and one of my sister's friends (let's call her Kate) were going to join me. The morning of the race, my cousin had still not fully recovered from a flu, so he was going to take it easy, but Kate was feeling pretty good. There was one problem however. She had not trained one bit. I had to beat her. Plain and simple. If I didn't, all my hard work wouldn't be validated.
I'll spare you the details, but I didn't beat her. Not even close. In fact I never saw her after the starting gun fired. So what did I do? I signed up for the full marathon for the next year. I realize that doubling down and training more for the half marathon would have been the logical thing to do, but a mindset crept into my head that began to dictate some of my decision making. Let's see if this rings a bell with anyone else? It went something like this, "Considering I didn't perform like I wanted to in this race and get the accolades I was seeking, perhaps I will try something even greater so I will receive validation and praise simply for attempting such an incredible feat." In my mind, if I put in the time, effort, money, sacrifice, heart and soul, then I better get recognition and compensation in someway shape or form. Sound about right?
Marathon day. One year later and a lot of miles under my belt. Mile 1: singing with a spring in my step. Mile 9: passed a little old Japanese lady about half my height. Feeling confident. Mile 15: right thigh began to cramp. Not feeling so confident. Mile 15.1: left thigh joined my right thigh as if they were in this together. Mile 20: dropped my water bottle and nearly folded into a ball on the ground attempting to bend over and pick it up. Mile 25: got passed by the little old Japanese lady. Mile 26.2: crossed the finish line looking like a delusional T-rex as my forearms and fingers began to cramp. Let's just say it's not the experience I was expecting and it didn't end there. I fought nausea the rest of the day, but the icing on the cake came a few weeks later when I ran into a former coach of mine. He had read my finishing time in the newspaper and simply asked, "What happened?"
The reality is that I finished well behind dozens of runners who hadn't put in half the time I did to prepare. Where is the fairness in all that? As time went on and the memory of the experience began to lose it's sting, I was faced with some questions. Would I attempt this again? But more importantly...why? I had to dig deep and examine my motivation. Was it for the pat on the back and the people who would potentially lift me up in praise for doing something they couldn't do? Or was it to build character, perseverance, and a healthy lifestyle for myself and to be a role model for my family like I intended from the the start?
If you enter an agreement with someone or even yourself, I believe you need to be resolute as to why. It's easy to try to renegotiate the conditions of the agreement when things get tough or they don't go as planned, but that is what will compromise your integrity. My word is my bond has been lost and we need to get it back. My disappointment in my lack of performance showed me that I had abandoned my original agreement with myself to get healthy again. I had exchanged it for a plan that depended on what others thought and one that screamed "Unfair!" when those that didn't work as hard as me took the trophy.
In Matthew chapter 20, Jesus tells a story of a landowner. He chose several workers in the morning to work his vineyard for an agreed upon price. This is an important detail. A few hours later he rounded up some more workers. Half way through the day he got some more, as well as a couple hours after that. The final group he put to work didn't hit the fields until one hour before quitting time. It came time for them to receive compensation for their labor and the landowner paid them all exactly the same. You can imagine the frustration of those hired first as they piped up, "These men who were hired last worked only one hour and you have made them equal to us who have borne the burden of the work and the heat of the day." Matthew 20:12
Here is the rebuttal from the landowner, "Friend, I am not being unfair to you. Didn't you agree to work for a denarius? Take your pay and go. I want to give the man who was hired last the same as you. Don't I have the right to do what I want with my own money? Or are you envious because I am generous?" Jesus concluded with something I hope you chew on this week, "So the last will be first, and the first will be last." Matthew 20:13-16
I want to be first in a lot of things, not just races, but I've learned that I need to remain humble and remember the terms of my original agreement in order to succeed. For me, I've agreed to commit my life to God and what He's called me to do. I've set aside the right to ask for more in order to serve Him and I've accepted the sacrifice He made for me as full compensation. The challenge arises when it appears the hard work I've put in goes unnoticed or someone else gets the credit who's joined later in the "race". Ever had that happen? Perhaps you're struggling with unfair treatment at work? I thought so. My prayer is that you learn from my experience. Because my focus turned inward I had forgotten about why I was running in the first place. To be honest, I may not have remembered if God had not allowed that little old Japanese lady to pass me at mile 25. His love never fails.