You’ve probably seen that video of the Brownlee brothers finishing their World Series Triathalon in Mexico recently. Johnny Brownlee, who was well placed to win both the race and the series, runs into severe heat problems about 700m from the line. Just as it looks like he’s about to collapse his brother grabs him, carries him along to the finish and pushes him over into second place before crossing in third himself.
Such moments are rightly applauded as great examples of sporting behaviour. They have a power to delight and surprise and maybe even scandalise us a little – can you believe someone would do that? The reactions were similar to Nikki Hamblin and Abbey D’Agostino’s helped one another in the 5000m competition during the summer Olympic’s. Is the reason we’re so surprised because these sports are seen as individual pursuits? Sure, we know there is an extensive training and support team for each athlete, but out on the track its every man or woman to themselves, isn’t it?
Of course there is a rich tradition of using the metaphor of a race to describe the Christian life. It stretches right back to the letters of the new testament, for example Hebrews 12:1. If you’ve gone to church even a little over a sporting summer like the one just passed, you’ve probably heard it. The metaphor is helpful, but can lead us to believe that the life of faith is an individual pursuit. Run the race, go with perseverance, don’t let others hold you back. Many compete, few win the prize. Perhaps we can benefit from the different attitude shown by Nikki Hambin, Abbey D’Agostino and the Brownlee brothers.
One of my favourite verses from the Bible comes from the book of Ecclesiastes. The teacher finds himself ruminating on the meaningless of life spent in individual toil for wealth and concludes: “Two are better than one, because they have a good return for their labour: if either of them falls down, one can help the other up. But pity anyone who falls and has no one to help them up.” (Ecclesiastes 4:9 – 10)
He then goes on: “Though one may be overpowered, two can defend themselves. A chord of three strands is not quickly broken.” (Ecclesiastes 4:12)
The life lived following Jesus is not supposed to be done on your own. At times it may feel like a race that requires deep personal endurance, but even at those times we are invited to draw strength from others; community, team, family, friends.
Who lifts you up when you fall? Do you have people in your life who are well placed to give you a lift? Are you in a position to be able to defend and protect others? Who around you might not have the help they need when life becomes tougher – is there anything you might be able to do about that?
Run the race with perseverance, but not on your own. Remember two can defend themselves, but a chord of three is not quickly broken.