I cleaned out the contents of my car last week: water bottles, spikes, uniforms, cones, and workout plans. For the past two and a half months part of my day always involved thirty-three middle schoolers. This was our daily conversation.
Kid 1: “Coach! What are we doing today!?”
Kid 2 or 5 or 7: “Do we have to? Can we at least just run to the gas station for slushies?”
Me: “Wait. This is the cross country team, right? No slushies.”
One Monday we were on the track running 400 and 200 meter repeats. I had divided the team up into four different groups according to pace. The first group had completed the workout, and one of the boys was standing next to me near the finish line. We were watching the last group run down the backstretch across the field. One runner, giving up, started walking while the others continued to push their pace. We looked at my watch; the time wasn’t the greatest. “You know, Coach, it really is more about how much you try, isn’t it? You don’t have to be the fastest necessarily,” he said. I stood there for a second, shocked at the validity of this observation coming from a seventh grade boy. I said, “You’re absolutely right. It is.”
Our team didn’t end up beating every other team out of the water or win every single race. I have no doubt that one day these kids could be part of a knock-out team, but this season wasn’t that season. What did happen, though, was that they showed up daily, and ran in heat and rain. They gave in to the workouts they tried to talk me out of doing. They stopped walking before they even reached a mile. They stole my hats and made fun of my awesome rear view bike mirror. They persevered through unwelcome obstacles. They finished.
This crew was all over the spectrum from seasoned and gifted runners to kids who had never run before. Looking back over the season, what I most value is seeing the start to finish process tangibly unfold before my eyes. Some ended the season by running a personal best. Some had radical time improvements overall. Some got beat by a teammate in a race or were disappointed by an injury. The end didn’t look the same nor did it turn out ideally for everyone, but they all arrived. They arrived differently and better from where they had started.
What I love about running is that there’s nothing flashy about it; it’s raw. It is inevitably painful, holding out a choice to fold to the moment or to keep going. When disappointment occurred in whatever form for one of my runners, I told them they could be sad about it for a minute, but then to move on.
Acknowledge, then grow. It is not that we ignore or dismiss hardship, but that it doesn’t have to destroy. Difficulty is an opportunity to choose growth, to not be left the same as we were. Our choice is if we will choose to let it. This is of highest value – who we are and who we become.
I see so many glimpses of Jesus in this. As I come to know Him more, I see how He values the journey that is always happening. He is a God who values the process, where we are, but how we end. To be truly transformed and changed is not to remain the same. The most beautiful journeys are the ones that are not without hardship, but the ones where you’ve been broken, sat in the dark, fallen into the dirt more times than you can count, but where you keep choosing to stand up and struggle well. This is a heart that overcomes.