Mono-Man and the Labor Day Chick-Fil-A 5K
When it was all said and done about two thousand people crossed the finish line in Autozone Park on the corner of Union and 3rd in downtown Memphis this Labor Day. Some were wearing proper track suits, others were adorned with the more traditional attire of uber-short shorts and dry-wear shirt, and there were even a few people dressed as cows (Chick-fil-a was the primary sponsor). One thing they held in common, however, was the traditional runners bib pinned to their front sides. One-by-one and then in bunches the bibs crossed the line and recorded the official time of the participants. The first runner crossed the line fewer than eighteen minutes after the starting gun and the ant-like stream of competitors were still weaving into the stadium when I left thirty minutes after the first finisher. One number after another entered the stadium, crossed the line, and then stumbled up the steps to the food tent in the concourse.
All the numbers, presumably, except one. Bib number 659 never crossed the finish line. It never crossed the start line. It never even got pinned unto a swanky track suit, sleeveless athletic shirt, or homemade cow costume. No, it sat in the plastic bag alongside the freebies given to every runner as its corresponding participant sat glumly in the stands and wished to heaven that he had never done whatever it was he did to contract the mono virus.
Lest you get the wrong idea, you should know that I can’t run. I wasn’t going to be in contention for anything except the “Most mediocre performance by a man in Superman t-shirt” award. All I wanted to do was improve my time from my last 5K, have a good time, and claim my free chicken sandwich and other goodies at the end of the run. Last year I was beaten by a girl running in a full-length denim skirt, so I had no visions of glory this year. I run for the exercise, the chance to clear my head, and the occasional flood of endorphins.
So why did I drive away feeling like an abject failure? How on Earth did any amount of my self-worth get tied-up in an annual, holiday charity run through downtown Memphis? I don’t know. I just know it did. Somewhere between holding back vomit after last year’s sprint to the finish and being informed by a bespectacled doctor that mono had stolen my youth (slight exaggeration, perhaps), a great deal of my self-worth had indeed become dependent on finishing a race that I never even got to start.
Being diagnosed with a virus that forces me to “take it easy” showed me just how much importance I had come to place on going full-speed. Between a full-time job, part-time school, and an all-the-time family of four (soon to be five), I had come to define myself by my level of activity. As much as I claimed to hate being so unrelentingly busy, I also tended to wear my busyness like a badge of honor. “Look at me,” it said, “I am very important, and I can prove it. Here’s my schedule for the next week. Only important people have schedule’s this busy.”
I was reminded of what Jesus told the seventy-two workers he sent out to prepare the way for His coming in Luke 10. They returned full of wonder at the amazing miracles they found themselves a part of, healing and casting out demons in the name of Jesus. Instead of rejoicing with them, Jesus cautioned them against using their work as a basis of joy or fulfillment. “Do not rejoice in this,” He said. “Rejoice that your names are recorded in heaven.”
Nothing we do or don’t do in this life is comparable to the reality that we are known to and by God. Our names and our lives are written before Him and guided by Him. Whatever you are given in this world can be taken away by this world. But the assurance that comes with knowing and being known by God Himself is untouchable and priceless and therefore ought to our source of ultimate rejoicing.