In athletics, results are important. A runner's time on the clock or a team's score at the end of a game measures success. The most outstanding athletes appear to have a perfect marriage of talent and determination.
But what about those who feel they are putting in just as much time and effort as the best on the team but not getting the same results?
I had been a high school track star, placing high in the state and regional levels. Our track team was full of talented runners and jumpers; for four years we reigned as state champions.
But when I got to college, my track experience was very different. There were only a few talented runners. We rarely won meets. My times stopped improving. The most impressive athlete on the team ran all the same events as I did, and she was significantly faster than I was.
To make matters worse, our freshman year she'd skip practice occasionally. When she did show up, she'd want me to lead the workout, relying on my discipline and knowledge to set the pace. During track meets, she'd become overwhelmed by fear and nearly unable to compete. I spent a lot of time reassuring her, explaining how to stay mentally poised and find the joy in the experience. And then she'd win every single event she entered.
It wasn't long before jealousy settled in. And for me, track practice began to feel more like a practice in being miserable.
But besides sports, I was also committed to another form of discipline - spiritual study - reading the Bible and "Science and Health with Key to the Scriptures" by Mary Baker Eddy. This daily effort gave me a deeper understanding of the moral lessons offered in the Scriptures.
From the Ten Commandments comes: "Thou shalt not covet." It quickly became obvious to me that coveting my teammate's talent also was ignoring the First Commandment: "Thou shalt have no other gods before me."
I realized that what was missing from my time on the track was a clear sense of how the activity was honoring God. Instead, I had been focused on how my training was honoring me. As I pondered how to be more God- centered in athletics, it became clear to me that my strongest talent actually had nothing to do with running; my strongest talent was the willingness to love.
That willingness was what I was expressing every time I showed up for practice without complaining, being a leader even if I wasn't the fastest on the track, setting an example through my own races, and respecting a skill so obviously greater than my own. When I thought I had just been training my body to run faster, I had actually been learning how to strengthen my ability to love.
Time on the track became a daily lesson in practicing my growing understanding of the spiritual foundation of patience and obedience.
I began to see other results, too. Our relay team started setting school records and came close to qualifying for a national meet. My teammate's discipline matured to match her talent, and she achieved All-American status. Later she competed in the Summer Olympics for her country, which had never sent a woman to the Games.
And in the last race of my career, I ran my fastest time ever. It was a wonderful high note on which to end eight years of training and sacrifice.
I'm still practicing this willingness to love, both on and off the athletic field. And supporting the good in others, instead of focusing only on my own goals or ambitions, can still sometimes feel as hard as a tough workout.
But helping others achieve their best, even if that means their results outshine my own, is well worth the effort. It's demonstrating the kind of love Jesus encouraged from his followers. And it has proven to be infinitely more satisfying than any speed captured by the clock.
The rich in spirit help the poor
in one grand brotherhood,
all having the same Principle,
or Father; and blessed is that man who seeth his brother's need
and supplieth it,
seeking his own in another's good.
Mary Baker Eddy
(Founder of Christian Science)