The hard truth hit in fourth grade. Within my little school, I had heretofore owned the fleetest feet, propelling me to the front of every race. First place was an everyday occurrence. The view from the back of the pack was unfamiliar territory.
Then, following Christmas vacation, a new guy showed up in class. With boyish swagger I proposed a race around the bases of the school's kickball field. I had not yet read Mark Twain's description of the overconfident mongrel that presumptuously streaks across the desert after a coyote. After granting his pursuer false hope for a couple miles, the coyote turns with a fraudulent smile that seems to say, "Well, I shall have to tear myself away from you, bub ..." and with a puff of smoke and sonic boom leaves the hapless hound prostrate in the dust.1
My ill-fated race was like a mini Revelation Seminar. I was no longer Speedy Gonzalez. I had been a medium fish in a tiny pond — a pond that would get deeper and broader, with bigger and faster fish, every year to follow.
At some point we all come to grips with the stark inequalities of life on this earth. Not all are straight-A students; not all are captains of the football team; not all immediately bring "hot" or "handsome" to mind. Some surge to the front, shine brightly, win awards, earn the spotlight. Others labor in the rear, behind the scenes, stuck in the shadows, unnoticed, unheralded, unappreciated. And while we decry the unjust caste systems of some cultures, we are not immune here in the land of the free. It is too convenient to mentally categorize those around us into winners and losers.
But are the real winners always the fastest or the brightest? Who gets to determine the leaders or the losers? Who steps to the podium with the announcement?
Our societal paradigm is hampered by an attention span shrinking faster than polar ice. My ancestors toiled for weeks over a rugged trail to reach the Oregon territory. I, on the other hand, get apoplectic if my Internet browser, connecting me to a billion places in the virtual world, takes a few additional seconds.
Yet, while speeding along in our daily blur, we may easily forget that "fast" has another, nearly opposite meaning. It denotes a laying aside of status quo, even our daily meals, for the purpose of spiritual focus. To fast is an intentional awareness on our part that God's plan, in His way and in His time, is paramount, above and beyond all other things.
There is, too, the biblical oxymoron exhorting us to "stand fast" in the Lord. The opposites attract here toward a higher calling that cannot be achieved in a 30-second sound bite.
But it might be a nudge toward the winning strategy of Ecclesiastes 9: For the heavenly race, indeed, is not to the swift, nor the battle to the strong.
1 Twain, Mark. Roughing It. Reprint paperback ed. Berkeley and Los Angeles: University of California P, 1993.
"While we decry the unjust caste systems of some cultures, we are not immune here in the land of the free."