Learning to run my race

My husband and I watched with great anticipation as our daughter took her place on the track.  It was the first track meet of the season, and she would be running the second leg of the 4x100m relay. The gun sounded and her friend sprinted toward her, the baton was handed off, and Tali took off. Well, she sort of took off. She looked every part the runner, her stride was long and beautiful, her back was straight, her arms were pumping appropriately... but it looked as though she was running into a strong headwind no one else was experiencing.  The kids from other schools quickly pulled away from her in that 100m and when Tali handed off the baton to her teammate, they were solidly in last place.

Our kids have not necessarily been ones who excelled at everything they put their effort to, but they have usually been near the front of the proverbial pack. This sinking to last was a new feeling for Tali.. and for mom and dad cheering from the crowd.

I wondered how she would do as her team came across the finish line in last place. Worried I watched for a crestfallen expression, slumped shoulders, all the symptoms of defeat... and instead I saw Tali skipping and laughing across the infield to meet the rest of her team. I observed her joking with friends on the bleachers between events. I watched as she went to help other runners with the starting blocks. She was just fine.

As we marched our way through track season, very little changed. Tali did occasionally get placed on the fastest relay team for her school, which meant despite her running-into-a-headwind-technique she still managed to pull a couple of blue ribbons with her team. She remained steadfast and faithful to track practice, despite the fact that when I asked how it went she would answer "awful!" with the biggest smile.

So at the last meet of the season, I knew what to expect. My friend had joined me to keep me company and to cheer Tali on. I warned her about the headwind, and she laughed with me when it came to pass. Another event and much of the same.

That's when the social-worker-I-care-about-feelings rose up in my friend and she asked "How is she doing with all of this".

"All of what?"

"All of this, you know... not excelling at something" (<--- which is a very nice social-worker-i-care-about-feelings way of saying losing). 

I paused. And I realized... she's doing really good with it all.

Actually, she is excelling at... being mediocre (at best)... sticking with something that is HARD... maintaining a positive attitude even when she isn't clutching a fist full of blue ribbons or hearing her name over the loud speaker.

And sitting there with the cold wind blowing and a thick quilt over my legs at a junior high track meet, I realized that this is the very lesson the Lord has been teaching me for the last eighteen months. How to run my own race, even when I'm not hearing my name announced over the loud speaker or earning blue ribbons. And even more, how to run the same race... when I am receiving those things. 

A few years ago, with a heart bursting full of words and encouragement and love of a Savior, I started this blog. I wrote the words He placed on my heart with abandon and joy, and I was simply amazed anytime someone would comment or click or share. I never expected to be a "big deal", I was just loving the race that He had me running and that it included something I loved so much. THIS. Writing. Sharing His truth and grace and love. Encouraging.

But somewhere along the race, I started looking to the right and to the left. I strained my eyes to look at the runners ahead of me, and glanced over my shoulder and those behind... and the comparison game began. I became obsessed with the numbers on the stat screen.  My heart wanted to walk in humility, I refused to self-promote beyond a single share on facebook, but I could feel the tightening of pride when others were more "successful" than I... and envy would make a strangle hold on my heart. I found my eyes darting toward the crowd and wondering how many of those eyes were on me, cheering for me... or were they all looking to the one finishing so far ahead? And then, when I heard my name... my heart would pound with the ecstasy of affirmation.

As I became jealous for the attention of others, Jesus became jealous for mine. And because He is a good God, faithful even when we are not, He stepped in and saved me from myself.

The writing stopped. The teaching paused. And a break began.

You guys, I am writing this from the most raw place that I can. I am raising my hand and saying "Hi, my name is Becky, and I am a recovering approval addict". I am admitting that I lived in a place of jealousy and fear. My eyes had strayed from Jesus, the author and perfecter of my faith. My mind was no longer fixed on the one that promises perfect peace.  I dared not dream big for myself, for fear of failure. What would people think if... I dared not dream for ME, because the dream she was walking in seemed to be working better.  I was a mess of contradictions... I wanted affirmation in the small things but was afraid to walk in the actual call on my life for fear it would look like pride.  I knew that in all things I was nothing without Him, I didn't want His glory for myself, just a little affirmation from man so I would know I was on the right track. As it seems to be with all things in me, that need for a little grew to to a need for a LOT. And I didn't even know it!

Over the last year and a half, He has been refocusing my attention. He has turned my eyes back to His and reminded me that only His affirmation matters. He has taught me that false humility is really pride, and that genuine humility only comes from hiding oneself deep in His heart. He has healed wounds I didn't even realize were there, and has offered me a whole, unblemished, unwounded heart.

He has loved me well. And gently. He has cheered me on from the stands as I ran... and failed. He has taught me to look to Him at that moment with a smile on my face and genuine joy in my heart and mouth the words "I tried!!!"  He has calmed my heart with the quiet whisper of "well done" when I doubted the step I had just taken. He has winked with a smile when that thing done in secret, stayed in secret. He has beamed when I cheered a teammate across the finish line, or held the starting block for her so that her footing would be sure as she takes off.

His plan had not changed... and for me it still included this... Writing. Encouraging. Sharing. But He had to push the pause button to teach me how to focus on Him and Him alone, so that I can be free. So that I can be free of the affirmation addiction I found myself spinning in. So that I can be free of need for approval of man. So that I can be free of fear of man. So that I can be free in Him, to say and do whatever He would call me to- as crazy as it sounds or seems or is. So that I can be free to cheer on others who are running faster than me. Achieving things in this world, and receiving the affirmation of others, and my heart can well up with genuine JOY and say "you go girl!"

Just as Tali hopped in my car that day, bragging about the super fast time her friend had run in the 100 meter.  I asked her as we pulled out of the parking lot how she felt the season went for her and the answer came with no hesitation, "really good... Mrs. Dillon told me that I have improved a lot this season" and she proceeded to rattle off times that demonstrated her personal improvement.

And there it is.

My daughter went into this track season knowing that she would probably be running at the back of the pack. And she was okay with that. Her goals were to stay in shape, and to improve on her personal times during the season. And she did. Because she kept her eyes on her own race, and didn't bother with comparing herself to her friends who were created to run. Had she started looking around played the comparison game, how long before discouragement set in? 

My friend, set your eyes on your own race. Trust the path that Jesus has you on. I promise you, it isn't going to look like my race, or her race, or his race... because He is a creative Creator and He has laid out a path unique to you. It doesn't matter if others hear the cheer of the crowd for something you wish you could have done as well... because your Father is still in the stands screaming like crazy because He knows... He knows what your time was yesterday and last week and three years ago... He knows how far you have come!! And so He has a giant foam finger with your name on it and He is chanting YOUR name with abandon. Keep your eye in your lane, and run the race set before you, and no matter how long it takes you to make your way around that track when you [finally] do, He will greet you at the finish line and with a hug whisper the sweetest of all words "well done..."

I am not saying that I have this approval thing all figured out. But He has been confirming again and again and again that this is where He wants me in this season. Writing. Sharing. Encouraging. He has calmed my heart with the promise that He loves me enough to strip away anything that becomes a distraction, even ministry. So I can put words to screen and offer them to you... all the while trusting HIM. He's letting me throw my hat back in this ring, and I'm going in knowing that I may be running around at the back of the pack... and that's okay. Because I hear my Daddy cheering from the stands, and that's all that matters.

For more on keeping your eyes on Jesus and breaking free of affirmation addiction:
Bob Sorge, It's Not Business, It's Peronal 
Jennifer Dukes Lee, Love Idol
In addition to God's personal voice speaking to me, these books were instrumental in awakening my heart to the truth of God's jealous love for me, and the empty promise man's affirmation holds. 


Grace Mulkey said...

Love you Becky B♥ thanks for sharing. Sort of same thing Hes been speaking in a way to me -but mine is IDENTITY ♥ needing to find who I am in Him apart from everything else. I love you. And I LOVED - Love Idol!.

Becky Boyles said...

yes! the greatest crisis in His Bride is an identity crisis! we have to come to rest in who He created us to be, individually, and who we are in Him.... but too often we allow our identity to be defined by who others say we are! it's a beautiful journey, isn't it?

Julia Kirk said...

Becky, thank you for these pure and honest words that spoke right into me...I love how God uses other people in our lives to get a message clear to us...I struggle with the same thing, partly because of my childhood but God is showing me that I cannot compare my journey [race] to others because He has a special journey for each of us and they are all different. Thanks again and I look forward to your future encouragement.

tammy said...

thank you Becky Boyles! i am also one who thinks she needs approval from man/woman! I need to stay in my own lane and run the race God has ahead of me! Thank you soooo much! Perfect!