The Life-giving Nature of Competition

So I just finished my final “hard” run before my half marathon this Sunday. The Minnesota weather was great, sunny and 65 degrees, and my legs and lungs felt pretty good. The pace felt easy – I should be able to make my time goal.

Yet, I have to admit, I’m anxious thinking about race day. There’s the possibility even so slight, that if things go really good, I’ll break my long-standing goal of breaking the one hour, thirty minute mark. On the flipside, I have a tendency to go out way too hard and fast, and well, as I found out two years ago, 13.1 miles can be hell on earth, so to speak.

So why am I so anxious? I know I’m being a bit of a whiner – I know well the anxiety some people have that just getting out there and running, and finishing, a half marathon is an accomplishment in itself. And, seriously, it’s not like I’ll win any awards or anything. I’m competing against myself, my own expectations and hopes, and that’s it. So what’s the big deal? There shouldn’t be any pressure, right?

Then it dawned on me: this is what it means to live life, to feel alive. It’s not the race itself so much, or the fact that so many others don’t even bother to run. It’s that competition, preparing and training, striving after something, with only a measure of faith and hope that the results will be fruitful, that make it life-giving. There’s something thrilling in that risk, that great daring, to put one’s self out there, to strive towards that unattainable thing, something that seems beyond your capability.

The thief comes only to steal and kill and destroy. I came that they may have life, and have it abundantly.

As I read this passage from John’s gospel (John 10:10, if you’re wondering), I wonder about what it means to have abundant life. We all believe in something, place our faith in something. What is it? Is it the comfort of a secure life? Is it the safety of knowing you have minimized and eliminated all the possibility of risk and failure in your life? Is it settling into a lifestyle that I can put on cruise control, making life as easy as it can possibly be?

Or, is it a life lived only with the assurance of faith and hope, that what we choose to live for has the possibility to be so much greater? Is it disciplining ourselves to the task, because even though the result isn’t guaranteed, what lies beyond it, the potential of the future, actually brings life into the present? Is it, that what robs us of life is the very belief that the status quo is good enough, the lie that equates complacency and apathy to comfort and security? And, what actually brings abundant life is risking, hoping, daring….a faith where we commit ourselves to others and tasks where little is assured, but what’s possible – both in the process and at the end – is so incredible?!

For me, competition is life-giving. And while competition takes the form of running races for me, I know it also takes the form of committing myself to risk entering into relationships with those different from me, working hard to love and relate to my fiancee and family, and challenging myself to understand the world and its messiness through the lens of God’s love and grace as much as possible. It’s a struggle for sure – some days you win, some you lose – but gosh, even in those moments of discomfort and anxiety, I just well, feel so alive. So connected.

So I’m off to run this Sunday…and 13.1 miles after, we’ll see where I stand. But I’m going to struggle and savor every moment of it. That’s life-giving for me.

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