As the story was recounted to me it was cold, very cold. It was early morning and he was in no mood to be running a race, especially one that felt like the Rocky Mountains. For a cross country runner from Alabama, the hills of Tennessee seemed very daunting. But, nevertheless there he stood, shivering from the cold, waiting for the start whistle. He felt like he had a pretty good chance to place in this 5k after assessing the competition. But, one never knows, some people will surprise you with their ability to run faster and harder than you think they could.
But, he was in no mood to care about any of that.
The whistle blew and the runners took off like horses out of a start gate. The first one hundred yards were straight downhill followed by a long uphill climb. It was brutal, and to think he was going to have to make two laps around this course made his stomach feel heavy. His breath blew back into his face like vapor as he sucked air hard in and out of his frozen lungs. “Keep a good pace, keep a good pace.” The thought kept running through his mind. Slowly and steadily he passed one runner after another until he was holding a strong second place. First place was just in sight, he might be able to catch him. So he pushed himself harder, legs burning from the exertion.
He wasn’t going to give up.
It was the final turn, the one that would lead them to the finish line. One more turn, he had long since warmed up from the strain of running a long distance with such intensity. Only one more turn and one runner lie between him and being through. It was then that the unexpected happened. The runner in front of him, the first place boy, didn’t make the final turn. He kept right on going, as though he was to do another lap around the course.
He had only a moment to decide what to do.
Without hesitation, he called out to number one, “hey, you need to turn.” It took extra energy to get the words out and he knew immediately they would cost him. But, it wouldn’t feel like a win if it happened because of a mistake. The runner ahead quickly adjusted his error and made the turn.
After hearing this, I had to ask myself, “What would I have done?” First place was obtainable. After all, the first runner should have been paying attention. But, would letting the one in front of you take the wrong path when you know you could have prevented it have been the right thing to do? I have my opinions on this, I feel like second place may as well have been first in this case. Integrity won. You can’t put a medal around the winner of integrity, but you can celebrate the fact that when given only a split second to decide, doing the right thing came easily.
So, they sailed into the finish chute and stopped the painful cadence to walk and catch their breath. It was over and it was a respectable finish and a chance to do the right thing. We never know when these life tests are going to creep up on us. When it may feel like a grey area and whatever we choose to do would be acceptable, although one choice may clearly outshine the other.
Do we live at the edge of integrity? Of doing the right thing even if it costs us something?
I heard a short clip on the radio recently about humility. Something I know I could use more of but I hate the process of getting. He said something that stood out to me and I have carried it in my heart ever since.
“Don’t be afraid to play second fiddle.”
Now, having been a band student back in my high school years, I know all about playing the “second” part in a piece of music. It was never quite as fun as the “first” piece, but it certainly made for harmony in the music. And the harmony is what made it all so beautiful. We need harmony. We need all the parts. First, second, third and so on. Some have to be willing to play second fiddle; to live their lives in harmony, not in first place.
One must be willing to give up the credit, when it is clearly deserved or to do the work someone else was supposed to do but didn’t, to be second fiddle, second in a race. What does humility look like in your life? Have you thought about that lately? That’s a hard subject for some of us to dive into. It’s tough to be humble with some folks. But, I realize more and more as I get older that the Lord really is my defender. He really will take care of me and I can rest in not getting the credit or the attention or being treated with kindness.
I can choose humility.
I can choose to do the right thing even if it costs me. And, ultimately, I am the real winner.
Second place never felt so right.
Colossians 3:12-14 “So, chosen by God for this new life of love, dress in the wardrobe God picked out for you: compassion, kindness, humility, quiet strength, discipline. Be even-tempered, content with second place, quick to forgive an offense. Forgive as quickly and completely as the Master forgave you. And regardless of what else you put on, wear love. It’s your basic, all-purpose garment. Never be without it.” (emphasis mine)