I’m out on a hot soccer field with a young man who wants to make his high school team in the spring. It is September and he (with his father) has engaged my services to help him in this pursuit. At our first meeting, I run him through a few drills. About mid-way, I have him jog, then sprint. We, that means he, does this several times. I watch as he slows, his face dripping in sweat as he completes the final sprint.
I congratulate him as he comes into the shade for some water. Suddenly, he looks at his dad and says, “I don’t feel so good.” He dismisses himself to be sick.
I am sick with him, not literally but figuratively. What have I done? I am not meant to harm but to help. Not to break down but to build up. I’m in the business of preventing injury! His Dad just shakes his head. “He’s so out of shape. This will be a good wake up call.”
I imagine this happens on training fields and race courses across the country and around the world. But not MY training field. That’s a place where people play and laugh and have fun and do a little exercise. Not toss their cookies!
Well, this kid means business, and he wants a chance to make that soccer team. He knows he needs to make some changes and train hard. He comes back for another session. Same field. It’s hot and humid. I don’t know what he’s done since last week. We, that means he, begin. He is breathing hard, sweating, shaking his head in disappointment. I am doing all these same things, only on the inside.
I immediately have a mountain of respect for the personal trainers I know who do this, day in and day out. Push people past what they think they can do in pursuit of the better they have in them. But how do I know how much is just enough and not too much?
I line up the cones. At the same distance as a week ago. Some halfway. Some all the way. “Do you want me to jog and then sprint?” he asks.
“I want you to run them in a way you can finish,” I tell him. Wow. Where have I heard those words before? Thank you St. Paul for your words to the Corinthians (1 Cor 9:24) and to Timothy (2 Tim 4:7).
He nods his head and readies at the first cone. Now, the pace is up to him. Finishing is his goal. He is not performing for me. He is setting himself on course to complete the race. I can’t do this for him. I can set up the path and stand by him. “When you’re ready, go,” I tell him. He does.
It’s excruciating to watch. He struggles, but pushes on. Bends, breathes, grimaces. Stretches, walks, then jogs again. At the last few meters, he leans forward toward the finish. And he does. He is not sick. He is not elated. He’s done. He has accomplished today’s goal. He moves to the shade and gets water.
He doesn’t know what anguish this has caused in me. I wonder if God feels this way as he watches us struggle? As we suffer through hardship and pain, even that of our own doing? He could step in, but that would negate all our work. It would remove our goal and preclude our progress. He has chosen not to defeat us. What wise words he has given us for these moments. “Run in such a way that you might win” … “Fight the good fight”… “Finish the race”… “Keep the faith”…
It’s hard to keep running when we don’t see the finish line. Sometimes we need a personal trainer to help us discover that we have what the day’s challenge demands, enough to cross the finish line.
Taking it at Godspeed, rather than full steam ahead, is what I am showing this young man he can do for himself.