Notes from the Race
I turned 25 last year and went through some major life changes. My husband and I moved from Georgia to South Carolina, leaving behind jobs that were less than fulfilling in favor of pursuing positions with our church. We loaded up our hand-me-down possessions in a U-Haul and set out for what I thought would be an entirely new life. For months before, I had prayed and cried and prayed and cried for an open door, a way out of what my life had become. I was struggling with loneliness and comparison, and my anxiety and depression had reared its ugly head, now, stronger than ever before. It was a Saturday morning -- I had been up all night with leg cramps that had forbidden me to rest, and I told my husband to take me to the doctor before I lost my nerve. Now, I take a little pink pill every day in order to keep my chemicals in check.
The truth is, some days I still feel like a scared kid trying to navigate this weird world of adulthood. I don’t always want to clean my room, sometimes I want to eat Lucky Charms for dinner, and Sallie Mae is like a taunting playground bully. But other days, I do okay, and I know it is due, at least in part, to this recent realization: life is a race, and it is not a race.
Life is a race, and it is not a race. I must have been driving, because all my deep thinking takes place in the car. At first, I was baffled. What does that even mean? Since then, I’ve unpacked it a bit.
I’ve been noticing some major themes in my reading choices lately: slow down, appreciate the small things and your own smallness, life is not an emergency. They show up in books, blog posts, and tweets, as if God really is giving me the answer in the form of that neon sign I always pray for. It can be boiled down to this: life is not a race. All of my striving, hurrying, comparing, and competing is counterproductive to the work that I believe God wants to do in my life. They whisper lies that rage against the truth that he speaks over me. And anyway, who am I really trying to impress with all of my puffed up self-sufficiency? Will it really help me to grasp what my soul is truly hungry for? Of course not.
One occasion in particular comes to mind. It was a Sunday, before we moved. My husband and I had been invited to participate in a small group with other young adults who were seen as leaders in our church. I looked around the room nervously, pulling on the hem of my shirt. I was surrounded by people with big dreams and gifts: a friend who would soon move to Tennessee to plant a church, another who (in my mind, at least) was the absolute queen of organizing and all things pep, and another still who I honestly believed could single handedly put an end to modern day slavery. What little I saw of their passions and callings seemed so glamorous. I wanted to crawl in a hole and never come out.
Sidenote here about moving: I really did think that a change in location would be the answer, but what I actually needed was for God to change my heart. Isn’t that always the way it works?
On my nightstand right now is a book called “Life of the Beloved,” by Henri Nouwen. Beloved is my word for 2016, and when Henri Nouwen writes a whole book about your word for the year, you can’t not buy it and splurge on the rush shipping option. It is a small book, and I am about halfway through, underlining meaningful passages (aka the entire thing) as I go. In it, Nouwen talks about the purpose of connecting being to call out the belovedness of others. My heart nearly burst! This is what I want my life to be about, but it will never be so if I don’t forfeit my potential perceived victory in the race. In the words of author Shauna Niequist, you can connect or you can compare, but you cannot do both.
Now, what to do with a statement that seems totally contradictory to that? Life is a race. I have never been much of an athlete, physically speaking, but I love that scripture repeatedly uses the analogy of a race to describe the life of a follower of Christ. The author of Acts states that he considers his life (his expectations, his own desires) worth nothing to him, except that he might complete the race (20:24). And what is the object of that race? To what end does he tirelessly run? His race, my race, our race, is that of testifying to the gospel. The book of Hebrews says that the race is marked out for us. So what could this mean for me, for us?
Knowing the race has been marked offers us the assurance that we have been chosen. While we may share a leg here or there, I cannot run your race and you cannot run mine. Ephesians says that the Lord prepared the works for us in advance. He knew we were coming. And when we lean into our chosenness, the temptation for competition falls away, allowing us to celebrate the chosenness of others as well.
It took a lot of prayer, a lot of uncomfortable surrender, to truly see what my calling is. Honestly, it isn’t glamorous. My name will probably never be seen in lights. My calling, at least for this leg of my race, is that of one who stays: the one who sends and cheers and prays and loves with all their being for just this moment of time. As it turns out, this is what makes my heart come alive. And I am learning, slowly but surely, how to run.
Life is a race, but it is not a race, my friend. We can run freely. We can learn to view our purpose through the lens of gratitude and excitement, rather than dread. We can cheer each other on, and offer water when others are tired. We can run with our eyes fixed on Jesus, with the assurance that we are not alone in this
Erin is a North Carolina native who, after spending a few years in Georgia for Bible college, is currently making a home with her husband in South Carolina where the two are both in ministry. She’s in love with words and the Word, and has an affinity for fine point pens, documentaries, white space, outdoor eateries, nude lipstick, and copious amounts of coffee. She’d love nothing more than to connect with you at erinsalmonwrites.com where she’s always going on about grace, or on Twitter, where she overshares at @erinmsalmon.