Last weekend I ran in a race. There were so many people participating—thousands of runners. It was only my second race, and the first that was a really big-production type of race. I was amazed at all the pieces that went into it—the organization, the paid workers, the volunteers, the teenagers cheering us along the route, the free food at the end. All I was doing was showing up and running. And I was solidly in the middle of the pack of runners—not trying to beat the 2 hour mark, but just running to have fun and get in shape. I found one of the pacers who was going my speed and just stuck with him. I kept a steady pace and kept going. I didn’t try to rush out front, because I knew that the long-term view meant that each steady step, one foot in front of the other, was what was going to get me to the finish still going strong. I was just another runner, but I had to run my race on my two legs.
Why does being one among many matter? We can feel so small and insignificant. And yet each individual has such a unique story, unique needs, unique gifts. It is easy to want to be someone people notice.
But what if I am not really a “stand-out” person in my race/job/ministry/family? I think a lot of us these days try to ignore the fact that we are just one among many. We might do this by posting on Facebook (I admit I did post a picture after my race…) so that our friends say how cool we are and make us feel like we aren’t just a part of the crowd. We might then think: ‘I got more “likes” than ever before—aren’t I so cool?’ Or maybe we try to keep getting better; we run more races and improve, so that we can say there are “more” people behind us now—we are more successful than they / farther up the ladder. Yet both of these responses ultimately fail to value the simplicity of just being one among many.
It is good to have big goals and to have heroes—just not when it means devaluing what we have right now. I was reading an article recently where the author was talking about how he had dreams of being successful like a couple people he saw as heroes. But then he said that now, 10 years later, both of those heroes have fallen from their places of success and influence, and he realizes that “perhaps we can’t actually be our heroes. Indeed, often our heroes couldn’t really be our heroes either.” Reformedish blog
Why do we as humans long so much to be in the spotlight? To be on top? Why do we envy those with more success, more money, more recognition? Why is it hard to be content to just be where we are and to meet the needs of those around us without any pomp and circumstance?
I am certainly not painting humanity as “all bad.” After all, I believe that people are made in the image of God (as it says in Genesis 1) and that we therefore possess tremendous creativity and a desire to influence and help others, reflecting His character and heart. Typically, I think most of us have mixed motives when we feel that desire for more influence/more recognition. Sure, it is partly pride and discontent; but it is also partly a desire to have a positive impact. Yet the self-focus can take over and poison the positive desires if we don’t pursue humility and fight against comparison.
It has helped me to remember that maybe we aren’t meant to see ourselves as the center of the story. We should clearly not be at the center of other people’s stories (even our own children—we do not control or run their lives, despite our best efforts at times). But I am also much happier and more content when I don’t see myself as the central focus of my own story either. You might think that is crazy. How can anyone besides me be the center of my story? Well, it is strange if I think my destiny is up to me. But there is so much we can’t control. When God graciously interacts with people in the midst of this broken world with so much evil and loss, he shows that he definitely cares about us as individuals, but that in fact the story is truly about Him [for example: in the book of Ezekiel, God keeps describing what will happen to different peoples, and then says “Then you will know that I am the Lord”]. He is at work bringing about the ultimate rescue plan (as the Jesus Storybook Bible puts it).
Where then is my focus? Is it on how every detail around me relates to my story, or on how my life and relationships point to God’s story? When we focus on ourselves, we tend to compare to others instead of being thankful and living where we are placed. A reminder of this truth is in John 21, when Peter is talking to Jesus about his own life and then shifts his focus over to John, asking “what about him?” Jesus’ response is powerful: “[W]hat is that to you? You follow me!” (Jn 21:21-22).
The book of Hebrews also reminds us that we should “run with endurance the race that is set before us, looking to Jesus, the founder and perfecter of our faith…” (Heb 12:1b-2). I want to fix my eyes, not on myself or on those around me, but on Jesus. I want to run my race—the race that God puts before me, not one of my own making—with the people He puts beside me.
In the half-marathon last week, I met a nice woman, a fellow runner. We started to run together. We had good conversation and encouraged one another. She was just one of many fellow runners, but she was the one who made my race better. The people who won the whole race didn’t necessarily impact my run, but the person next to me did. It is the individual real people we meet, who touch our lives, who give us moments of encouragement, that change us.
The little prayer of my heart therefore is this: “Lord, help me to run with endurance—loving, serving, and making a difference right where I am placed—and to keep my focus on the one who truly is the center of the story.”