No, not that race.
Many years ago I was an editor at a university press. I will never forget the twin surges of exhaustion and exuberance when we came to the end of a project and finally sent it to the printer. A lot of high fives, laughter, and rehashing some of the hills and valleys of making the deadline took up a good bit of time right after the project was finished. Finally, we would get back to our desks to start the next project, though the temptation to launch a 4-day pencil-sharpening campaign was huge.
Super Bowls don’t stay won. The Apostle Paul would agree.
Writing from jail in ancient Rome, Paul wrote to a church in Philippi and encouraged them to press on toward their goal. He gives them the often-repeated advice of “forgetting what is behind.” Forget your failures, but also your achievements. In other words, don’t let what is past — good or ill — be enshrined — keep moving.
Paul was likely familiar with chariot racers in the Roman colosseums. These contestants couldn’t afford to look back as they careened along because that could have put stress on the reins and pulled the horses off course, sending them colliding into the other racers. Competitors had to keep their eyes on the goal.
But Paul was not talking about a race of competitors. He was talking about persisting in the ways of Christ, something Dr. Alyce Mackenzie calls “perseverance of the soul.” It is persistence in this soul work that will keep us alive and running all our lives. We may finish some projects, retire from our jobs, but the soul work continues.
Soul work is personal, but it is not just for you. Soul work understands that in Christ our lives are intertwined, and not just with the people we like. We do soul work so that we can love our friends and our enemies. And love is not some impractical pious injunction. It is hard work, perhaps the hardest thing we are called to do. Soul work strengthens us to do this hard work and to pay the price for it. It may cost us our desire to win arguments and to force change upon another, a tactic that is proven to fail and to bring disaster.
Paul says to run the race to the finish. Whether your party won or lost in the election, your soul work still calls. Help people in need, learn more about human interaction and relationships and give up on your need to be right all the time. All in a day’s work? Hardly. It’s an ongoing race. But take heart, there are a lot of us on the course.