Tuesday, October 20, 2009

Finish Lines

Everyone who competes in the games goes into strict training. They do it to get a crown that will not last; but we do it to get a crown that will last forever (1 Cor. 9:25).

Last week my wife was out of town. My kids were out of school. Those factors alone would have made for an interesting Monday. Add to that the torrential rains that fell for most of that day, and my parental creativity was stretched to the limits.

So I opted not to be creative. We went to a Chick-fil-a and a movie, bringing along a couple of their friends so as to minimize the potential for sibling bickering that rainy days inevitably bring about.

The cheap-seat dollar theater was playing one of my favorite films from this past summer, the animated feature UP. I had seen the movie back in June, but I loved it then and knew it would easily be worth the $1.50 ticket price. And as for exactly why the “dollar theater” charges $1.50 for tickets, I have no idea. It’s still a deal.

UP tells the story of a man’s life and a dream that stands at the center of his life. The drama begins with his boyhood fascination with adventure and his love for a tom-boyish girl who becomes his wife and shares his love for adventure. They have a dream that is captured by a painting she places over their fireplace – a picture of their house at the top of Paradise Falls.

The years go by. Life happens. Paradise Falls never does. Until one day, elderly and alone, this man – Mr. Fredrickson – eludes those who wish to place him in a retirement home by taking his house aloft with thousands of balloons. He drifts to South America to pursue a dream that he and his dear Ellie never had a chance to pursue together.

Eventually he manages to place his floating house at the top of the Falls, just like Ellie painted many years earlier. As for how that comes about, you’ll have to turn lose of $1.50 and go see for yourself. It’s a great story – but the real drama isn’t in getting the house to the Falls.

Once there, Mr. Fredrickson realizes that the picture he had over his fireplace, the one he had held in his mind and heart for all those years really wasn’t the dream after all. The real dream was simply his life – all the small moments that had made up his life. That was the adventure.

Or to use Paul’s language, that was the real race.

Most of us live with a finish line somewhere in our heads. We have an idea, a picture of where w will be and what we will be doing and what life will look like when we know we’ve “won.” The finish line can be about what we achieve professionally or what we attain materially or how many candles we manage to gather on top of the birthday cake. For some the finish line is a large crowd of children and grandchildren who come back home for holiday meals at a long family table. And of course, many of us live with all of those finish lines in front of us.

While Paul speaks of the crown we receive when the race is won, many commentators understand Paul’s focus to be on the race itself – the running, the discipline. Paul is not telling the Corinthians, or us, to simply finish the race, but to run it well.

The grace is in the running. Sometimes our preoccupation with the finish line keeps us from truly enjoying the race and embracing all that it means to run hard and run well. Paul seems to suggest that when we run hard and run well, the finish line will take care of itself.

What finish lines do you hold in your mind today? Are you enjoying the run and living the adventure?

Gracious God, every day is a chance to train for the race. And every day, in very ordinary ways, we run the race to which you have called us. Grant us the grace to both train well and run well. Show us the joy that you have for us on the course, and not simply at the finish. Amen.

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