Perhaps it was the most Olympic of moments for these Rio games—it certainly was the moment of greatest sportsmanship. During the women’s 5000 meter race, American Abbey D’Agostino and New Zealand’s Nikki Hamblin fell. D’Agostino helped Hamblin up and encouraged her, “Get up, get up! We have to finish. It’s the Olympic Games!” They both got up and finished the race…even though it was minutes behind the winners. D’Agostino injured her knee badly enough she was taken off the track in a wheelchair. In a crucial moment, D’Agostino was the cheerleader Hamblin needed to finish the race. We all need cheerleaders in life…because we fall all the time and need the courage to finish.
In the spirit of the Olympics, I will share my one golden track moment. Although it was anything but, the way my dad tells the story, you would think it was. It was a crucial moment when I needed courage…and got it. I ran cross country and track in high school, and I never posted fast times…I was just sort of average. I think I was better on longer cross country courses than shorter events of track. But on this day I ran my second and final 800 meter race of my illustrious track career. On this day, I heard the crowd roar.
The 800 meter run is two laps around a track. My home high school track was gravel, so this day’s race at the all-weather track at Menlo School was a treat. I was in the back the entire time, but somewhere toward the straightaway of the last lap I determine that I AM NOT COMING IN LAST. I set my sights on the next to last guy and around the last curve I caught up. I spent a lot of energy to catch up. I pass him, and I think it woke the guy up to resolve that HE WAS NOT GOING TO BE LAST.
He pushes himself to catch up and passes me again. But I was freakin’ resolute that I AM NOT COMING IN LAST. Less than 100 meters to go, and I was gassed…but I was not giving up. The attention of the crowd turned toward these last two runners. Both determined not to lose. Both screaming. One was screaming louder. So tenacious, straining, willing his legs to move just a little faster. More energy has never been expended trying not to come in last in the history of time than between those two teens. Burning muscles, burning lungs, burning heart, face burning in fury and determination. Neck and neck they came to the line. A photo finish. But I was the victor of the race for non-last. I was never happier in my entire high school running career. And I was never more completely spent. Collapsed.
This boy’s dad stood on the infield of the track watching the race, but was in prime position for the last 100 meters. He cheered on his son, shouting encouragement, stoking his son’s will and tenacity to never quit. A cheerleader when it was most needed. He was so proud to see his son push himself to the limit and win his 2-person race. To this day, my dad tells the story of determination as if his son’s berth on the Olympic team was at stake. He loves to tell that story. Still a cheerleader, even 30 years later.
We all need cheerleaders. We crave having someone shout encouragement when we are pressed and exhausted. We all get to the point of exhaustion and being over-taxed in life. We all have too few people shouting for us. I feel encouraged at how many dear friends I’ve had in life from all the places I’ve lived. People who have spoken words of life and encouragement. But I still feel alone many times. Maybe its my stage of life with two small kids at home, and never feeling like there is enough time for the things that I need to do. I still feel on the edge of anxiety and depression at times, and feel overwhelmed with all my responsibilities. I still need a cheerleader, even at 48.
There are a couple of instances in the Bible that allude to God being one of those tangible cheerleaders like my dad was on the day of my race. One is in Zephaniah 3:17 where it says, “The Lord your God is in your midst, a victorious warrior. He will exult over you with joy, He will be quiet in His love, He will rejoice over you with shouts of joy.” He understands what it means to be in the battle since He is described as a warrior. Exult has several definitions, but I love the meaning of being jubilant. The Father is jubilant over you to such a degree that His face has evident joy. His quiet love is still a confident love for you. He is so crazy happy for you that He shouts joyful words for you. What a picture of the Father’s care for us. He is shouting words of encouragement. We need to be listening. Some how I heard my dad’s shouts of encouragement amid the din of that stadium. I need to work toward listening to my heavenly Father’s words better.
A second picture that shows a tangible help comes from John 15:26-28 where the Holy Spirit is described as a helper. The Greek word for the helper is paracletos, and is translated several ways into English including counselor, helper, encourager, advocate, and comforter. The meaning is that this being is one called alongside to help. One blogger I read broke down the word to its parts and says the, “clete part of it means to call out or yell. The para means vigorously. So paraclete means to call out vigorously.” To me, that is what a cheerleader does. They vigorously shout out the encouragement you need. And that is what the Father does, even if we haven’t quite trained our hearts and ears to hear the words. We need to grow in learning to listen for our Father’s shouts of encouragement.
Max Lucado has written a post about how the Father cheers for us. I love the pictures he paints for us.
“God is for you. Turn to the sidelines; that’s God cheering your run. Look past the finish line; that’s God applauding your steps. Listen for him in the bleachers, shouting your name. Too tired to continue? He’ll carry you. Too discouraged to fight? He’s picking you up. God is for you.
God is for you. Had he a calendar, your birthday would be circled. If he drove a car, your name would be on his bumper. If there’s a tree in heaven, he’s carved your name in the bark. We know he has a tattoo, and we know what it says. ‘I have written your name on my hand,’ he declares (Isaiah 49:16).”
Are you willing to believe that? Are you able to take in that you have a cheerleader in the Father who shouts out the words you need to hear in order to keep going?
In that 5000 meter race, Abbey D’Agostino and Nikki Hamblin were the last two to finish. Despite that fact it was a true Olympic moment. That moment is also the picture of a heavenly Father who comes down and helps you up and says, “We have to finish.” He speaks loudly sometimes, and sometimes it is a quiet love meant for only you to hear. But will you hear it? He is cheering you on. Get up, get up, and finish!