August 8, 2022

The Grace Race

I love this photograph. Ollie Hoare of Australia has just taken down a world class field in the 2022 Commonwealth Games 1500m, breaking his PB and the longstanding Commonwealth Games record in doing so. The first Aussie to take the title since the great Herb Elliott more than sixty years ago.

I’m a big Ollie Hoare fan and have followed his career the last couple of years. But for all of the emotion – and there was plenty of that – it was the genuine pleasure shown by Kiwi Sam Tanner that was a truly wonderful moment too.

Tanner and Hoare have run plenty of races together and I’ve watched plenty of their match ups on YouTube at various European and US tracks. But when Hoare slumped to the ground in disbelief and emotion, Tanner (who came sixth in a PB, in which the first seven runners all beat the previous 1974 record), goes over to him and grabs his hand, then whoops and hollers, and then, as Hoare stands up, points him out to the crowd, so that the crowd can revel in Ollie Hoare.

Like this:

It’s as if Tanner was just wanting to point Hoare out to everybody in that packed, screaming stadium and say “This guy!” And that’s exactly what he was doing. Watch the video of the race and see how Tanner isn’t about self-glory, but about pointing to the glory of someone else. Even after Hoare gets back to his feet, stunned as a mullet, Tanner is geeing the crowd up pointing to him.

It’s a wonderful reflex gesture witnessed by the whole stadium. Take a bow yourself Sam Tanner.

And speaking of gestures, unheralded at the time, but revealed later, another great Aussie runner, Eloise Wellings, should take a bow. Eloise didn’t win a medal either, she came an agonising fourth in the marathon, or as the Spanish say, she won “the chocolate medal”.

During the race, eventual winner and fellow Aussie, Jess Stenson, realised her specially prepped – and labelled – drinks bottle with an energy gel taped to the side wasn’t on the table as she ran past. If you know anything about marathons you’ll know that fuelling up at the right times in the race is crucial. Crucial for also-rans such as I, and super crucial for elites in a global race, such as Stenson.

Diver, Wellings and Stenson celebrate together

So as they were running in the front pack Eloise handed Jess her own gel, with Jess realising she’s missing a vital cog in her marathon wheel. Just like that. A reflexive move. Putting her own interests aside in an act of grace.

Now it’s easy to say that that is simply friends being friends, but we only hear about it after, when Stenson told the TV interviewer. But for Eloise it’s probably more than that. She, along with former Ugandan Olympic team captain (and former child soldier) Julius Achon, run an aid agency in Uganda called Love Mercy Foundation. Check them out, they’re well worth supporting.

Eloise Wellings is a follower of Jesus and knows all about the grace of the Lord Jesus and the love and mercy He has shown her. That’s why her commitment to Love Mercy is an act of reflexive grace in light of the grace shown to her. But so too is the act of reflexive grace in giving up her rights to serve someone else in a race, someone who may get an advantage because of her generosity. She didn’t umm and ah about it, it was reflex. That’s how she lives.

It’s probably why too, at the last Commonwealth Games in 2018, she stayed trackside with the two other Australians in the race to wait for the last placed runner to cross the line and go and congratulate her. It was only four minutes you say! Well that’s more than 1.25km at their pace.

There’s just something about grace isn’t there. Something about the love that is defined by the grace of Jesus which leads to words such as these being penned in 1 Corinthians 13:

Love is patient, love is kind. It does not envy, it does not boast, it is not proud. It does not dishonour others, it is not self-seeking, it is not easily angered, it keeps no record of wrongs.  Love does not delight in evil but rejoices with the truth. It always protects, always trusts, always hopes, always perseveres.

And as a Christian I know the tell-tale signs in my own life that grace has fallen off the map. I can sense when my own understanding of what God has done for me in Jesus has taken a back seat. And the example of Sam Tanner and Eloise Wellings show me what that looks like, or more to the point, the opposite of their example does.

So when it comes to Sam Tanner’s example, when I’m not operating in grace, I’m not keen to showcase the winner and put attention on others. No, I am keen to showcase myself and draw attention to myself. I can get chippy if other people get the glory that I wish were mine. Or I find that I compare myself with the success or gifts of others, and lose my joy if I am not performing to the standard they are.

And when it comes to Eloise Wellings, when I’m not operating in grace I find myself being self-serving, not looking to the interests of others as much as my own interests. And more subtly, I find that even in my serving of others, I hope there’s a broadcaster somewhere telling everyone about it! I find I’m not reflexive in grace at times like that.

The need for a grace race is vital for us, because the unfortunate – indeed sinful – tendencies I just mentioned, run in all of us. And they will derail us. I know that Eloise is a Christian, and I have no idea about Sam, but in both these athletes we see a beautiful picture of what it means to take the focus off ourselves, and put it onto other people. And not only to do that, but to do it with joy!

What’s your reflexive move? Is it that kind of grace?

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There is no guarantee that Jesus will return in our desired timeframe. Yet we have no reason to be anxious, because even if the timeframe is not guaranteed, the outcome is! We don’t have to waste energy being anxious; we can put it to better use.

Stephen McAlpine – futureproof

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