On the tail end of what was an exhaustive yet necessary debrief, whilst on the verge of arriving to South Eastern Africa, I find myself exactly where I need to be: in transition.
Knowing where I am yet realizing where I will be has yielded a perspective that has allotted me a portion of freedom that the World Race culture embodies. This comes with choices, as AIM staff member Bill Swan imparted to me over breakfast and our scheduled one-on-one time.
In room 309, I sit across from Bill with a leg folded over my knee in a chair near the table in the corner. Bill, barefoot and relaxed, sits atop his bed as he heats water for our oatmeal.
Bowls are sparse on the race as well as the hotel room. He allows me to eat first. As I mix the water and oatmeal I ask him, “What is something other racers struggle with after month four?”
“Well, most people have grown a bit up to this point,” Bill responds. “What prompted so much growth in the beginning of the race – the discomfort of it all – will be something you eventually get accustomed to.”
Sitting back in my seat I realize that living out of a backpack, feedback, and the people in my life have become the norm. Change has become stable, and I find myself standing looking around this plateau asking myself, ‘What’s more?’
I finish my breakfast and ask if I can wash the bowl and spoon, but he says, “You can just hand it over here. Ever since my race, I don’t mind sharing utensils and stuff.”
Surprised, I hand him the bowl and spoon, and Bill starts preparing his oatmeal with the very utensil and continues the conversation.
“So what do you do? What do you choose?” I ask him.
After Bill finishes mixing his oatmeal, he takes in a spoonful and says,
“Eventually you have to choose to grow.”
For years I have attempted to invest my heart and leave my identity to be affirmed by people as opposed to the very One who formed them, who formed me. I’m facing the understanding that it’s less about who you are and what you do and more about whom you are following. It is quickly dawning on me that He is not only calling us to serve His people, but calling us up to serve them as well.
I wonder, is it harder to maintain a commitment than to actually commit in the first place?
Failed marriages, broken diets, decisions for Christ come to mind. For the world, the World Race is about serving, empowering, and realizing the body of Christ. For the racer, it’s about learning to live as a free child of God.
The words of Donald Miller come to mind from Chapter 26 of his latest book: A Million Miles in a Thousand Years:
“It’s like this when you live a story: The first part happens fast. You throw yourself into the narrative, and you’re finally out in the water; the shore is pushing off behind you and the trees are getting smaller. The distant shore doesn’t seem so far, and you can feel the resolution coming, the feeling of getting out of your boat and walking the distant beach. You think the thing is going to happen fast, that you’ll paddle for a bit and arrive on the other side by lunch. But the truth is, it isn’t going to be over soon. The reward you get from a story is always less than you thought it would be, and the work is harder than you imagined. The point of a story is never about the ending, remember. It’s about your character getting molded in the hard work of the middle.
At some point the shore behind you stops getting smaller, and you paddle and wonder why the same strokes that used to move you now only rock the boat. You got the wife, but you don’t know if you like her anymore and you’ve only been married five years. You want to wake up and walk into the living room in your underwear and watch football and let your daughters play with the dog because the far shore doesn’t get closer no matter how hard you paddle. The shore you left is just as distant, and there is no going back; there is only the decision to paddle in place or stop, slide out of the hatch, and sink into the sea. Maybe there’s another story at the bottom of the sea. Maybe you don’t have to be in this story anymore.”
“I think this is when most people give up on their stories… they get into the middle and discover it was harder than they thought. They can’t see the distant shore anymore, and they wonder if their paddling is moving them forward. None of the trees behind them are getting smaller and none of the trees ahead are getting bigger. They take it out on their spouses, and they go looking for an easier story.”
“It’s like this with every crossing, and with nearly every story too. You paddle until you no longer believe you can go any farther. And then suddenly, well after you thought it would happen, the other shore starts to grow, and it grows fast. The trees get taller and you can make out the crags in the cliffs, and then the shore reaches out to you, to welcome you home, almost pulling your boat onto the sand.”
There is a promise. An island that lies in the midst of the not too distant future. Its reach and embrace will far surpass any sensation, affirmation, and accomplishment that anything in this world has to offer. It is a narrative worth living out. It is a story that is worth seeing to the very end. And the result of this pursuit will be more beautiful, fulfilling, and rewarding than I could ever imagine.
The beatitudes in the book of Matthew describe what is to come. I don’t desire to feel sick with sadness or pervert the will of God. I desire to be whole. I desire to honor what the Lord is doing and embrace what He has in store. To let His voice, affection, and attention be what I’m pursuing.
Because blessed are those… for they will be…