“Therefore, since we have so great a cloud of witnesses surrounding us, let us also lay aside every encumbrance, and the sin which so easily entangles us, and let us run with endurance the race that is set before us…” Hebrews 12:1
Never before has my life felt like such a race, as it has in the last few months. And it’s not that I have just one race I’m running, but multiple.
I’m running to get all the ends tied up to help my daughter get off to college (filling out form after form, getting her through medical exam after medical exam). And I’m running alongside my daughter as co-coaches of a Little League team trying to get all our games played (after being rained out of several of them), and hoping to win a few. And I’m racing to get my house and garden looking great for my daughter’s graduation party in about 3 weeks. I’m racing to get copywriting jobs done for my client within his deadlines. And in-between all of that, I’m racing to spend time with my younger daughter who, if I’m not careful, will get left behind in the dust.
It hasn’t been fun. My older daughter and I sat down a few nights ago, and talked about how we’re so stressed out and have been nipping at each other on a continual basis. She feels overwhelmed and knows she can’t handle it all, so she expects me to run around her and keep everything from dropping. I feel like the servant girl to the petulant princess. This has been such a hard collective set of races that I often visualize myself on a road, flat on my belly, the finish line in sight, but I’m so exhausted that I can hardly inch my way toward it. It’s one of those “so close yet so far” feelings.
Paul talked about the race we run in our lives, but doesn’t refer so much to “winning” as he does to “endurance.” He says “let us lay aside every encumbrance, and the sin which so easily entangles us.” Why? Because we have “so great a cloud of witnesses.”
Many people think of the “cloud of witnesses” as angels, or people who have died before us. That may be true, but there is an equally-great cloud of witnesses around us right here on earth. They are everywhere, and they are watching.
On Mother’s Day, my daughter’s stress got the best of her, and she said and did things she now regrets. At one point, when I and my daughters were driving somewhere, I finally had had enough, and I turned the car around and headed home. I was really angry and letting her have it verbally. When we pulled into the driveway, I told both girls to get out of the car, because I was going to go for a drive to cool down. My oldest daughter refused to get out of the car, and in a very loud voice, I was saying, “Get out!” It was quite a scene as my youngest daughter scrambled out of the car and my older one stubbornly held her ground until I, in complete frustration, got out myself, and started walking away into the neighborhood. We realized shortly after we all exited the car that our neighbors, who have several kids, were sitting in their car in front of their house, watching us.
And then last night, after my daughter coached the Little League softball team of 12-year-old girls, and we lost yet another game, she got into the car afterward, angry and frustrated. She takes the game seriously because she’s been playing it for about 8 years and will be playing it in college. So when she watched the pitcher walk batter after batter, smiling as though it was no big deal, my daughter was gnashing her teeth. Our other pitcher had left feeling ill, so we had no other pitcher to put in. We entered the final inning ahead of our opponents at 11-3, and in the one inning, gave them 20 runs due to errors.
When she had her “coach talk” with the girls after the game, she wasn’t kind. And when she got into the car, she told me she wanted to quit, and I could take it from there. But I told her that she’s a role model. She’s the first high school kid that our town’s Little League has allowed to be head coach. She’s setting a precedent for future high school kids to take leadership positions. And those 12 girls–they look at her with stars in their eyes. She’s a senior in high school and they look up to her far more than they look up to me. They aspire to be like her, and to please her. She has a greater cloud of witnesses than she realizes, and she must finish the race. Years down the road it won’t matter how many games we won or lost this season, but that Christian was there to encourage them, to stay the course, and to show them what leadership and commitment looks like, even when you’re only a high school senior.
It’s for the cloud of witnesses that we run the race. And they are everywhere, all the time. It isn’t easy. Just like in a real race, we’re prone to fall, take a nose-dive and embarrass ourselves. We get exhausted. We think we just won’t make it. And sometimes we even get to the point where we don’t care what anybody thinks; we’re just going to sit down and quit.
“…fixing our eyes on Jesus, the author and perfecter of faith…” (Hebrews 12:2a)
Sometimes it seems like the finish line is just too far, so we need something closer to fix our eyes on. Jesus isn’t at the finish line; He’s right in front of us, leading the way. He’s within touching distance. And when we think we can’t go any further, He knows. He knows. And that’s when we need to reach out for Him, because He’ll reach back. He’ll take hold of us and strengthen us. He’ll give us rest, and encourage us, and equip us for the rest of the race.
We have to run it for the cloud of witnesses. Our race may be the only race toward Jesus–and with Jesus–that they ever see. Run it for Him and for those who may take your lead, and begin to run behind you.