Word for Wednesday… Perseverance
Therefore, since we are surrounded by such a great cloud of witnesses, let us throw off everything that hinders and the sin that so easily entangles. And let us run with perseverance the race marked out for us, fixing our eyes on Jesus, the pioneer and perfecter of faith.Hebrews 12:1-2a
The 2020 Summer Olympics, currently underway in Tokyo, Japan, have provided plenty of fodder for conversations around the water cooler, dinner table, etc. One of the stories that has gotten more air time than most is that of Simone Biles, the highly decorated American gymnast who came down with a case of the “twisties” and, as a result, removed herself from much of the competition. To the delight of many, she finally decided to return to the action by participating in the individual balance beam event; earning a spot on the podium by winning a bronze medal. Having won so many gold and silver medals over the course of her career, I wonder if this medal felt like a disappointment.
I’ve never had a case of the “twisties,” unless you count the many times I have failed to execute a front flip or gainer at the neighborhood swimming pool and ended up doing a belly flop, but I’ve had moments where the stresses of life made me experience a type of paralysis, where succeeding in anything was difficult, if not impossible. The worst was the time in college where I had what I guess would be referred to as a nervous breakdown. The confluence of stresses created by my studies, an important relationship, and a crisis of faith led to a period of clinical depression. You can imagine how insurmountable a twenty-page research paper on the doctrine of holiness can seem when just getting out of bed in the morning is a challenge. Not surprisingly, my grades suffered that semester, leading to the first “C” on my college transcript. At the time I was extremely disappointed, but I’ve since learned to be more gracious with myself, realizing it was the best I could do under the circumstances.
In a society that elevates and glorifies perfection, or at least near-perfection, it’s easy to feel like a failure. Sadly, this emphasis on perfection has made its way into our understanding of what it means to be a faithful follower of Jesus, leading us to experience disappointment in ourselves far more often than the joy of our salvation. The words perfection and faith can only truly be used to describe one person, Jesus. He is our perfect example of what faithfulness to God should look like. But when the author of Hebrews compares the life of faith to a race, he doesn’t say that we need to be the very first person across the finish line in order to be victorious. What matters is that we never give up, that we do our best, that we persevere until our race is over. We should look to Jesus’ perfect example not to experience condemnation, but for hope, encouragement, and inspiration. He wants us to finish this race more than we do. And it’s not a contest with only one gold medalist. The podium is big enough for all of us.