I was a pageant kid. It’s just kind of a thing here in Louisiana. I don’t think it gets more southern than the Farm Bureau Talent Contest. I was in Kindergarten when I sang a duet in it with my sister that won us a second place trophy. I went to bed that night with my arms wrapped around it and it was probably then that it first came over me: I love to win.
There’s no shortage of contests to win growing through your school years, but as an adult, the contests become more arbitrary, less advertised; more felt than seen. Who can make the most money, have the nicest things, be the better mother and the be-all-end-all-of-everything? Who can win at life?
But competition can consume. You can lose yourself trying to win your perceived race. For a time it was the lens that I saw everything through; the measure by which I measured myself. I prayed that God would relieve me of the desire to always win because, plain and simple, it was exhausting. I was reminded, though, that competition isn’t without a place. It’s not an entirely bad thing. I guess St. Paul’s words had slipped my mind:
“Therefore since we have so great a cloud of witnesses surrounding us, let us also lay aside every encumbrance and the sin which so easily entangles us, and let us run with endurance the race that is set before us, fixing our eyes on Jesus, the author and perfecter of faith, who for the joy set before Him endured the cross, despising the shame, and has sat down at the right hand of the throne of God.” –Hebrews 12:1-2
The truth is, I am running. It was just that I kept getting tripped up in all the wrong races.
Do you love Lauryn Hill? She is the soundtrack to my junior high life. Even though the five-disc changer in the trunk of my sister’s car was always full (young people…go with me on this…) we only ever listened to her. She’s the kind of artist that makes me remember why art matters—because it trudges up emotion in people they often aren’t able to identify for themselves. After The Fugees, she released her solo album, The Miseducation of Lauryn Hill, and was heralded the queen of hip-hop and everything else. Then, just like that, she was gone.
There are lots of theories as to where she went—maybe the legal issues or tax evasion or other personal problems played their parts. But I like the theory about how she left the music business to focus on her son. Deeper than that, even, I like to think that she, like every other human being on the planet, was searching for fulfillment and was big enough to realize that she wasn’t finding it where she was; was smart enough to realize that she was running the wrong race; so just bowed out, in a sense; not to quit—but to chase down the fulfillment she was looking for.
That story line fascinates me. Because after years and years of looking for some proverbial championship in every arena of my life—to be the best, the brightest, the most seen, and well received—it dawned on me that it would be okay for me to just bow out, to walk away, to stop chasing a prize that I wouldn’t ever win; not to quit—but to ask the Lord what race I’m really meant to be running. What is the race that You have set before me, Lord?
Because that’s how you win at life: you run the race you are being called to run. For most of us, it’s a race that is mostly hidden; on a road that winds and turns; with very few bystanders there to cheer us on. But to run the race of your own life with joy and generosity? To dive into those quiet, unseen moments of tying shoes and answering questions and tightening goggles and sounding out words? That is where the real prizes lie—not ones you can display in a trophy case, but visible in you—in the abiding joy and peace you will win in the running of your own race.
I think that to lay aside “every encumbrance and the sin that so easily entangles” is to simply bow out of the race that isn’t yours. It takes a big person. It takes wisdom. It takes discernment. It takes a keen listening to the voice of the Lord. And then it’s this revelation of freedom to realize that it’s okay to simply walk away. Translation into real-mom-life: Oh. God isn’t asking me to be the greatest room mom that ever graced the face of the earth. Oh. God isn’t asking me to_____________ (fill in the blank).
When you bow out of the race that isn’t yours, you become free to set out full speed on the one that’s set before you. And then? You run. Eyes fixed on Jesus. No other audience to impress. Running to win.
Copyright 2016 Kelly Pease