Talk delivered before dorm residents during the SU Christian Life Emphasis Week in February 2011.
I would like to express my gratitude to the University Spiritual Life Council for having me as your speaker. I’m sure I was selected to speak to you not because I’m the holiest person at Silliman; nor because I’m the most active in church affairs; and definitely not because I pray the most fervently; far from it. I think I was chosen because the Lord will especially use me this time as an instrument to share his Word with you.
And I’m glad I came — even after so much hesitation to speak before a large group as this — because so far, just the sight of you students and dorm residents coming to church while you have papers and homework to do, warms my heart. (Albeit this is a required activity where you earn points?)
I have never lived in a dorm while I was in college but I’m very familiar with how students in the dorms live. I say ‘familiar’ because when I was a grad student at Brown University, I also worked as a community director, much like our dorm manager here in campus.
The population at Brown is so diverse — we had dorm residents like a grandson of the Russian president, a princess of Jordan, a nephew of the king of Nepal. Not to mention that on my graduation, one of the graduates for an honorary degree was Steven Spielberg himself. I remember the Brown graduates waving huge streamers that said “We love E.T!”
The students at Brown are not only very intelligent and very sports-oriented, they are highly-driven and motivated, and very intense. Much like many of you here.
But even highly-motivated students experience distractions or obstacles every now and then: One of my residents complained to me that he was mooned. M-O-O-N-E-D. It was my first time to hear the word and I had to google it up after a person of color complained to me about it. To moon is to expose one’s buttocks to another person usually to insult him.
Another student needed yet another detox after having too much alcohol. One time I accompanied the Brown police to pick up one of my residents found lying on the pavement on the street and take her to the hospital for detoxification.
Still another came crying to me because she was “sexed out”. To be “sexed out” means to be locked out of your own room because a roommate brought in her boyfriend.
Another time, a student in the co-ed dorm I was managing came knocking on my door at 2 in the morning. “Irma, do you have condoms left?” (You see at Brown, community directors like me, or the dorm managers, are also tasked to help the students make choices! And so I would hang a box of condoms on my door, they drop in their 15 cents for every piece, and the condoms are gone by the end of the day.)
As a community director, I also had to deal with dorm residents who had suicidal tendencies. A few students would just hit rock bottom….
While I did not go through such distractions when I was in college myself, I have learned vicariously from them, and now I have a better picture of the highs and lows that students like you in this day and age must be going through.
Our text is about Running the Race, taken from Hebrews 12: 1-2, and 1 Cor. 9: 24-27. Now I’m not a theologian so instead of dissecting the verses word for word, maybe I’ll try relating it to running, a sport in which I just very recently took a serious interest.
I’m relatively new at running. So far, I have joined the Buglasan Festival Duathlon in October (run-bike-run competition). I have also joined the Dumaguete Fiesta Quarter Marathon in November last year. In both competitions, I was so thrilled that I came in first in my age category 45 & above, winning a sack of rice each time.
Heb 12:1 tells us: Let us throw off everything that hinders and the sin that so easily entangles. Before I started joining any race, I had to learn the rudiments and build my stamina.
That meant I had to have discipline in going through rigorous training beginning at 5:30 in the morning each day, then again at 3 in the afternoon when my class schedules allowed it.
That also meant cutting down on chicharon, eating right, getting eight hours of sleep, and drinking water throughout the day. My old lifestyle had to go. (I’m still working on it.)
The training was not only rigorous, but torturous as well. When I was doing my daily mountain bike ride to Valencia for the duathlon, I had to endure body pains, bruises on my arms and knees, hematoma on my torso — although you don’t have to go through that to join a race. Those just happened to clumsy me.
Well, when we decide to walk with the Lord, it’s pretty much like that. We train ourselves to build an intimate relationship with Jesus by carefully studying his Word in the Bible, and mustering the discipline to do it relentlessly each day.
This means we consciously devote some precious time for it. Walking with Jesus also means that we have to be kinder to others, be more tolerant of the slow one in the group.
Walking with Jesus means we try hard not to get angry easily, and we do not readily seek revenge when provoked.
Walking with Jesus means we should not be envious over what our classmate has. It means we must be less proud of our achievements.
1 Cor 9: 24 says: Do you not know that in a race all the runners run, but only one gets the prize? Run in such a way as to get the prize. When I thought I was ready to compete in mountain-biking and then in a running race, my goal then was to win. I always told myself, “I’m not here just to run or bike and make friends. I’m here to beat the others and win!”
I took that goal so seriously that I even biked past a competitor — a college varsity athlete, mind you — who I saw was beginning to experience cramps in her legs. I just hollered at her mindlessly, “Just stretch your legs!” and I went on my way and biked even faster— because I was thinking I just needed to win.
When my eldest daughter Melissa learned about this later, she told me, “Mommy, you left her on the trail?! That was my friend!” I said, “Ooopps… but I thought it was a race!?”
On hindsight, it may not have been the proper thing to do. It was not the Christian response. Now, I think my goal in joining any race is simply to improve on my personal best time.
You see, when we decide to run the race of the Lord, we also commit to switch off that competitive mode and to stop comparing ourselves with the other.
Instead, we are to care for each other, to be sensitive about each other’s needs, to ask about what could be bothering her, to lend a hand, go the extra mile. That is why we are called a community of faith.
Heb 12: 1-2 tells us: And let us run with perseverance the race marked out for us, fixing our eyes on Jesus. Many times during a race, what we trained for is not necessarily what happens. So many obstacles and hindrances come up all too suddenly: it could be a bum stomach or a nagging leg cramp. It could be foul weather. Or the trail could suddenly become muddy and slippery, exposing all the huge rough stones.
And many times in a race, you are on your own; it can be a lonely uphill climb.
When we run the race of the Lord, there will be obstacles, heartaches, even back-sliding along the way, “the sins that so easily entangle”. But the Lord encourages us to just move on, not to give up.
To persevere. The dictionary defines it as “to continue in a course of action even in the face of difficulty or with little or no prospect of success”.
Similar words are “to persist, keep going, struggle on, to press on, go the distance, stay the course, drag oneself, stop at nothing, hang on, stick it out, hang in there”. To NEVER GIVE UP.
I now recall the countless times I would frantically text Pastor Bernie asking her to pray for me, even for little things. And she would tell me, among the many other advice she would give me, “Ate, I pray that the Holy Spirit will grant you the grace to just focus on the Lord.”
Just focus on the Lord. You see, there are just too many distractions in life. Maybe we have become too engrossed with our studies; even our Sundays are occupied with classes, group work, study groups, papers/projects to do; And then there’s Facebook!
(A prolific columnist in the MetroPost had to delete his Facebook account because he realized he didn’t want to waste time reading about what his grade school classmate had for lunch!)
We don’t have time to be in church anymore.
1 Cor 9: 25-26 reminds us: Everyone who competes in the games goes into strict training. They do it to get a crown that will not last; but we do it to get a crown that will last forever. Therefore I do not run like a man running aimlessly; I do not fight like a man beating the air.
When you run a race, bring yourself to resolve to finish it, lest you be labeled DNF (did not finish), and you would have wasted those efforts spent on training. You don’t finish a race because you know there’s a sack of rice waiting for you at the finish line, or that friends and family will be cheering for you — although both would be encouraging. But you finish the race because you committed yourself to do so.
The modern race marathon is actually based on the story of a Greek soldier who ran 42 kms. from the ancient town of Marathon to Athens in Greece to deliver the news that they had defeated the Persians. It is said that this soldier ran all 42 kms. without stopping.
The life of a Christian is actually a marathon, a highly-personal long-distance running race, the prize of which is finally meeting Jesus.
The life of a Christian is not like a sprint. It’s not like something we can just do on one Sunday, or during this Christian Life Emphasis Week, and say “been there, done that” for the rest of our lives.
The life of a committed Christian is a life-long endurance workout with the Lord as he chisels out our imperfections, and makes us more like his image. We who know better know that we have a purpose here at Silliman: and that is to praise our Lord Jesus Christ who never stops urging us to even plod on because He is waiting for us at the finish line.
Can you picture that? Our great God — who is my personal strength, my coach and trainor, my commitment, my prize — with outstretched hands, waiting for us at the finish line.