If Paul had been writing today, I’m pretty sure he wouldn’t be speaking only of running this race. Instead, I think Paul is the inclusive, gripping image kind of guy to make sure to include the body of the faithful with all kinds of physical abilities and disabilities. Indeed, writing to the community in Corinth, which included women leaders who would never compete inside the coliseum or the state gymnasia, Paul was utilizing one of many images about the way the life of faith is hard and requires continual effort.
Life, as we know, doesn’t play by a simple set of rules. Life is often not sporting. Cruel and terrible things happen. Unfair things happen. If life was totally sporting, well then, those of us who work hard and are gifted with certain talents would always be ahead of those of us who work hard and are not gifted with those same talents, which is, if you think about it from the perspective of the second group, to which I assuredly belong, not very nice. Furthermore, it is so predictable and boring, if you are in the second group with me, you know we end up asking, “what’s the point?” We struggle with apathy, with tuning out, with turning away. Why try when the deck is stacked and the Holy can’t love us enough to make us equal to those that have the gifts and can work hard?
Life is not a set up for some to win and others to lose. That would indeed be a cold and capricious god who set that system up. Life is about all of us working to the best of our abilities, together, with love and generosity and compassion. Doing that requires a lot from us, every day, a spiritual athleticism and dedication, committing ourselves over and over to choosing to live with love, with generosity, and with compassion.
If you think that is “soft” or “easy” try it out, not for a day or a week, but for a whole year. Live a whole year where you are always loving, ever generous, and compassionate every minute of every night and day. Then come talk to me about that was, because I’d love to know.
I think Paul would like to know, too. He knew well about the struggles he was writing about it. He had them. He had to discipline himself every day to choose love, generosity, and compassion. He had to work against his own quick and unkind judgments, his own expectations, his own troubles. Life athletics calls on each of us, every night and every day, to rededicate ourselves, to keep practicing, to pick ourselves up when we lose, to be kind when we win, to keep keeping on in love, in generosity, and in compassion.