There’s nothing like discovering your ex just got married (while you’re still single) to send you spiralling.
I’d broken the relationship off nearly four years ago because I knew God couldn’t be at the centre of it. It was a step made in obedience and sheer trust that letting go of the person I’d loved most wasn’t going to leave me in pain forever.
In time, God did help me move on and rebuild my life—so much so that I was surprised to be this winded by the news. But I soon realised it wasn’t so much from a sense of loss as it was dismay at the contrast of where we both were in life. We’d been left at the same place four years ago, but why was my progress towards having a family so slow?
It was too easy to doubt God’s goodness and spiral off in fear. Was singlehood how He was going to make me bring Him glory? Was I never going to know the joy of being with someone again? Was I going to live my life losing out to everyone on the relationship front?
At the same time that I was grappling with my ex’s new status in life, the Olympics were on and I more than welcomed the distraction. I threw myself into watching the athletics—a sport I’d competed in and loved in school—and unexpectedly found God speaking to me about my journey as I watched an up-and-coming young hurdler make history.
Focusing on the Right Thing
Even as a teenager at the 2016 games in Rio, Sydney McLaughlin had proven that she was more than capable of holding her own against professional 400m hurdlers. This year, at the US Olympic Team trials, the 21-year old qualified for the Olympics by breaking the world record and beating the current world champion, 31-year-old Dalilah Muhammad.
But it didn’t initially look like she would repeat her performance at the Olympic finals. Muhammad had come out of the blocks strong, and maintained a convincing lead throughout. But McLaughlin looked remarkably composed and kept her form consistent. Then at the last 40 metres, she sped past her rival to clinch the gold and smashed her own world record in the process.
In a post-race interview, McLaughlin said, “I saw Dalilah ahead of me with one [more hurdle] to go. I just thought: ‘Run your race’.”
The wisdom of her simple words hit me. I remembered how, as an inexperienced hurdler, it was so easy to panic and fumble when I saw my competitors overtake me. How easy it could have been, too, for McLaughlin to second-guess herself, especially since she was using a fairly new strategy—taking only 14 strides between hurdles where others usually take 15—to accommodate her sheer speed.
But she had disciplined herself against using others as the yardstick of her own progress. The uniqueness of athletes’ gait, stride length, and frequency means that everyone paces their race differently, making it futile to judge herself against another from a single point on the track. It was far more prudent to simply “run your race”: to trust her tried-and-tested process and the reliability of good form to take her across the finish line well. And they did.
Trusting God’s Pace for Me
Seeing McLaughlin’s physical race helped me visualise the spiritual one I’m running in. Granted, in the race of life, no one competes with each other. We’re all on our individual journeys with God. The variedness of the biblical stories suggests that the work that He does to make each of us “worthy of the calling [we] have received” (Ephesians 4:1), to prepare us for our different vocations, shapes a road, a pace, that is incomparable.
Assessing my progress against another is to use a yardstick that was never meant for my race. It makes me lose my bearings. Perhaps others are meant to speed up just when I’m meant to slow down. If I chase after them, I’d find myself at an ill-fitted pace and exhausted from the pressure of keeping up. Maybe they were meant to slow down just when I’m to pick up speed. But if I fly past them (and gloat), I’d fall into pride as I find pleasure in the illusion of being better than another.
To run the race of life “in such a way that I get the prize” (1 Corinthians 9:24), Jesus is calling me to “fix my eyes on Him, the author and finisher of my faith” (Hebrews 12:2). I’m reminded that the prize of my life is not marriage, but to know Christ (Philippians 3:10). Somehow, somehow, this is where I’ll find true satisfaction. As I turn to the One who designed my journey, I take my cue from Him as to when I shorten or open my stride. I find my purpose in stewarding the specific responsibilities He’s given me in this season.
And in the thick of it, when everyone looks far ahead, when I’m most tempted to give up and sink into despair, I find grace in falling back on the tried-and-tested. The truths that I know and His goodness that I have already experienced. The rhythms of grace that help me draw from Him and know His heart. The good form of Christlikeness to anchor my behaviour. These are the things that keep me heading towards where I need to end up.
As a dear friend recently reminded me, “God is redeeming all things, and our lives—even our days—are part of that redemption. We live in a truth that, however slowly or quickly we may be travelling, we are going somewhere. Or, more accurately, somewhere (and Someone) is drawing near to us”.
And so I return my focus once again to the One who loves me, who knows where my story is going (Psalm 139:16); I recognise that I am but at one point in my journey. I never know what lies around the corner. The important thing is to not stop moving.
 Tish Harrison Warren, The Liturgy of the Ordinary: Sacred Practices in Everyday Life. Downers Grove, I.L.: InterVarsity Press, 2016. Kindle.