We went to Burger King for dinner tonight because our kids needed some time running around on a playground and… No, no “and,” the playground was the deciding factor.
After most of the food was consumed and the simple enjoyment of climb, slide, run, repeat wore off, my very competitive son challenged my wife to a race. Up the playset, down the twisty slides, the first one back wins. So that was fun for a few rounds with Mommy and/or Sister. Then Daddy got in on the action. Then we took a break, ate a couple more fries, split a cookie four ways, etc.
Racing resumed with an added trip up the playset and down the double slide. Mommy sat out a couple rounds watching the baby while I let my boy win and my girl came in a distant third. When Mommy entered into the final race (leaving me to sit out), the course changed again. This time it was Mommy who made the race harder. Too hard for herself, in fact. The race became this: up the playset, down the twisty slides, back up the playset, down the double slide, through the tunnel under the playset, and back to start.
That tunnel is easy for a 5 year-old to run through. Not so for his 20-something mommy; she had to crawl. It was hard to watch. Do I laugh, do I encourage, do I feel sorry for my sweet wife struggling to finish a meaningless race against our son?
Here’s where I landed.
I laughed at and with my wife, I cheered for her as she crawled to an embarrassing defeat of her own design, and I felt sorry for all of us humans for all the times we’ve made the race harder for ourselves.
In the Bible, the author of the letter to the Hebrews writes at one point, “Therefore, since we are surrounded by so great a cloud of witnesses, let us also lay aside every weight, and sin which clings so closely, and let us run with endurance the race that is set before us,” (Hebrews 12:1, ESV).
Adding needless complexity can make things better when you’re talking playground fun. That’s not the case with life in general nor with the Christian life in particular. God has good things for you to experience for your enjoyment, hardships he intends you to endure for the sake of developing your character, and comfort to give you so that you can comfort others (note: only hurting people need comforting). So the life your Father in Heaven wants for you will be a hard enough race to run, hard in an ultimately good way mind you.
The trouble is that we make the hard-in-a-good-way race harder in a bad way when we deviate from the course set before us. We add trips into dark valleys only to have to climb steep cliffs to get back out. We stop to attend to some distraction and let the race get away from us such that we must run all the harder to catch up. We pick up extra weights which we’re told add to the fun but merely add to the difficulty of running the race.
My father-in-law runs marathons. I can’t imagine him getting halfway through the Boston Marathon in April and deciding to run an extra mile off the course to pick up a Big Mac, a pack of cigarettes, and pair of 20-pound dumbbells, you know, just to make the race more interesting. That’s insane. No one does that. I also can’t imagine him cutting down a sidestreet to shorten the race. That’s cheating, and it disqualifies one from finishing and receiving any award.
So why do we do that kind of thing so often? Usually, it’s because we aren’t thinking about the consequences of our actions, like my wife who didn’t think about how she would get through a tunnel designed for children. You get to make many real choices in life, but you never get to choose the consequences of your choices.
Think about it.
Are you making the race harder for yourself? How is that working for you? What do you need to do to get back on course? (Hint: Give Hebrews 11 & 12 a read for starters.)