The tragic and surprising death of a long-time colleague has prompted me to write this story. It encapsulates a thought that has been on my mind for a while, and now it is time to form it into words. I hope I do it justice.
Live with the finish line in site.
I have seen a lot, working in a large corporation for more than a few years now. I have met all kinds of people, and though we are all unique, believe in different things, and have different situations to deal with in our lives, there is one increasing theme that I see many times over. People often trade the long-term prize for a lesser, more immediate one. I think it is because they do not realize how valuable the long-term is. Our legacy, honor, and honesty, these are things we cannot immediately see their value. They cannot be bought or held. It takes trust and perseverance to know their value only increases over a lifetime.
Our society gives us many examples of the immediate kind. Former U.S. VP Al Gore divorces his wife after 40 years of marriage, at the age of 62! Wow. The long-term prize of passing down a privileged legacy, heritage, and emotional security to his children and grandchildren was given up for something very temporary. This is equivalent to a marathoner giving up at mile 25 just because it starts to rain a little and the crowds thin out. No, any marathoner will tell you they will keep running through the rain for one more mile to reach the finish line. They know the prize waiting for them at the end, and they know the real crowds will be there cheering them on.
A few years ago, baseball player Mark McGwire lost the national home run record after admitting to steroid use. He commented later that “he wished he had never played during that time”. The long-term prize of honor and honesty and a well-played God-given talent was forgone for a few records that will eventually be replaced anyway.
In my own circumstances, I have watched people make work their first priority all their lives, saving everything for that retirement day – money, their time, living their life – only to experience a serious health decline at time of retirement and unable to do very much with the little time left. I have seen those who are seemingly on top of their game, who several years later have fallen almost beyond belief. And some people work more for their boss’s recognition over their own family’s recognition. It almost always, always goes wrong.
I know how hard this life can be, and how hard it is to stay on course. My competitive type A personality sometimes gets the best of me. I have to keep myself in check, to make sure I do not lose site of the finish line in this fast-paced, instant message world. I ask myself almost daily, “What really matters in the end? Will this last beyond the moment or will it be forgotten in a few years?” I write notes to myself on my phone’s memo pad and look at them each morning to remind me of my focus for the day. I call them my “finish line” notes. It is that important, that critical.
Each of us, no matter how good we are, will eventually be replaced someday in our jobs. Life moves on. So hang on to those things that truly last over time, the things that make us unique and cannot be replaced – our legacy to our family, our honor in society, and our standing with God. It may look like no one is looking at these things, but they are. God is looking, our children are looking, our friends and neighbors are looking, and even those strangers you have not met yet are looking. Hang in there, go for the long-haul. It may mean not getting that additional recognition at work, declining a promotion (which I have done), and letting some things go. It will work itself out, if you let it. The less important things are eventually sifted out on their own.
Finish life well.
Staying on course is great, but what if things have not gone as we had wished? We messed up. Do we just give up now? Absolutely not. This is the best part of the story. God gives us a way out, a second chance. God gave us Grace. We all get the choice to finish life well, no matter what we have done. The catch is, none of us know how long we have left in this life, but if you are reading this now, then it is not too late. Maybe we cannot fix everything. Mark McGwire cannot go back and redo his past. But we can finish this life well. One of the best hero stories in the Bible, better than Noah, or David and Goliath, is the brief story of the criminal being crucified on the cross next to Jesus. He recognized his wrong. He asked Jesus to forgive him and to remember him. He finished well. All it takes is a sincere change of heart. Sincerity is not over-used these days; God will know if we’re faking it. Finishing well to you may mean a much-needed heart-to-heart conversation with God, or perhaps the need to forgive someone so that we too can be forgiven. Maybe it is reaching out to someone we have wronged. By God’s Grace, we all have a chance to finish well.
If the first century A.D, there was a man called Paul of Tarsus, who did both of these things. He kept his thoughts on the finish line, and he finished well. He was on his way to Damascus when he was converted. He gave up his short-term goals of wealth, power, and the security of his Roman position, to take on a life of hardship but with great long-term rewards. He saw the finish line that day. He knew the real prize. He is considered to be one of the most influential leaders of all time and wrote many of the New Testament books, yet he never even knew Jesus while Jesus was still living on earth. Paul’s most famous last words are:
“I have fought the good fight. I have completed the race. I have kept the faith. The victor’s crown of righteousness is now waiting for me.” 2 Timothy 4:7-8.
Chris Tomlin’s Amazing Grace (2007)
… this run is for you, my friend and fellow runner. You finished well!