My son Ben loves competing for Special Olympics, and has a giant collection of medals and ribbons from various meets and tournaments. He participates in eight different sports, and every competition finds him swaggering home with something shiny.
The medals and ribbons hang proudly from his bulletin board, the overflow crumpled in his desk drawers. He is 30 and has only been competing for 9 years. I’m not sure what we’ll do after another decade – build an extra room onto the house?
The first time Ben went to a state tournament, I was dumbfounded when he arrived home with a silver medal. How could he and his ragtag group of teammates possibly accomplish such a feat? Second in the entire state of Minnesota!
As it turns out, every team is assigned to a bracket of other teams at a similar skill level. Out of those four teams, there are gold, silver and bronze medals, and a fourth-place ribbon.
Miss Minnesota is kept busy all weekend passing out all those awards, as are the various local agricultural princesses, donating their time and celebrity to help Ben and his friends celebrate their brief moment of glory.
Ben is as proud of those medals as he would be if he’d actually been state champion. He doesn’t realize – or care – that he is in the “P” bracket, not the “A”. According to Ben, you win first or you win fourth, but there is no such thing as losing.
It’s easy to have a little chuckle at Ben’s naïveté. But don’t I also have a collection of pseudo-medals hiding in my soul? Things that I cling to in order to bolster my standing in my own eyes?
I was that good girl, striving to earn the gold stars, diligently completing my homework, hoping to measure up to my father’s expectations. Collecting medals to tell me I’m okay. Earning ribbons to fill the empty drawers in my soul.
And then I found that the race is for the love of running, and the finishing of it a gift for Another.
“Run so as to win the prize,” Paul said of the Christian life. Running not to beat out others, but to invite them along. The running, not for our own honor, but His. We don’t run to win the prize – we run so as to win it. All-out: heart, soul, mind and strength. The prize is waiting for all those who long for His appearing. It fuels us, this desire to honor Him, storing up treasures of faithfulness, effort and sacrifice not hidden away in drawers, but for the sake of His glory.
It is not uncommon to see Special Olympics athletes help and encourage their competitors. A number of years ago Ben’s basketball team was up against one with a giant of a man. He stood under the hoop and simply grabbed everything that came near it, his size overwhelming every attempt to score. But when Ben’s shoelace came untied, it was this huge man who knelt on the court to gently do for Ben what he couldn’t do for himself. And isn’t that the point of it all? Using our gifts and opportunities to help others?
The winning of this race we are in does not come with clocking the fastest time, but in helping others reach the finish line. We run with all our might to be last, expending all of our effort and energy to put others before ourselves.
How are we doing in that race? Are we running so as to win it in the upside-down way of the kingdom? With what are we filling the drawers of our souls?
I am in the “P” bracket, pressing hard toward the finish line to win the prize of the upward call. I don’t need to be discouraged by the success of the “A” team. He has assigned me my race, and I am to run it with all I’ve got for His glory, not mine.
How silly my cheap medals and fraying ribbons will appear on the final day! The truth is, nothing that I’ve accomplished or excelled at will alter His love for me.
I have stumbled at times, sometimes fallen over my own feet and sometimes tripped up by someone else. But I know that Ben is right: as long as I stay in the race, even if I win last, I still win.