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A photo of Sean holding a baton and sprinting in a track meet

Flashback: Purpose In Every Step

I need to write a short essay for a scholarship application. They gave a few typical prompts, and the option to write about a topic of my choice, or to reuse an essay I wrote for class or for a college application. Being a junior in an engineering major, I haven’t exactly written many essays in the last few years. Several for psychology my freshman year, and one about the environment in geology. After staring at my cursor blinking for a good while, I decided to go back and dig through my old college applications for some inspiration. Not to straight-up recycle one. A lot has changed in the three years since I was writing those. But I thought I might find one that would be a good starting point. I came across a document named “Personal statement”—I apparently hadn’t bothered to specify what I was writing it for. But between the essay itself and the prompt, which I also had (but which didn’t say specifically what it was for, either) it seems that I was writing this after having been accepted to Tech, for something related to financial aid. Anyways, it really struck me. But I’ll let you read it, and then add some comments at the end (where I pick back up in italics.)

Purpose In Every Step

Don’t you realize that in a race everyone runs, but only one person gets the prize? So run to win! All athletes are disciplined in their training. They do it to win a prize that will fade away, but we do it for an eternal prize. So I run with purpose in every step. I am not just shadowboxing. I discipline my body like an athlete, training it to do what it should. Otherwise, I fear that after preaching to others I myself might be disqualified.

1 Corinthians 9:24-27

Throughout the New Testament, the Apostle Paul repeatedly compares the Christian life to running a race. As an athlete myself, the analogy has special significance to me. A lot of people talk about “chapters” of their lives. I would be more inclined to see my life as a series of races in some sort of Olympic track event, all striving for the great prize my King will award me at the end of it all. The problem with the chapters analogy is that you read a book kicking back in a hammock, flipping the pages and watching the story unfold without exerting yourself in any way. The life of faith, though, is a serious business. It is not something you live out in a hammock. It requires all the devotion, discipline, and focus of training for and running a marathon. So “I press on to reach the end of the race and receive the heavenly prize for which God, through Christ Jesus, is calling us” (Philippians 3:14). The finish line of high school is rapidly approaching, and before I know it I will hear the gunshot telling me to lunge across the line into yet another race—college. I am somewhat unsure about it, not really knowing what is in store around that curve in the track up ahead, but I have motivation to keep running no matter what.

I have come to see myself in my proper place—part of the grand, epic story starting with the narrative in Genesis and that will eventually finish as foretold in Revelation. In this story every one of us has a role to play. Living just for my story only motivates me so far, but to be caught up in a story that transcends my life gives me a cause worthy of every moment of my life. I have a reason to get out of bed every morning. In Hebrews 11, Paul lists many people in Scripture and the legacies they left behind. Each of them has played out their role and left their mark on history. Then he brings it back to us, saying, “Therefore, since we are surrounded by such a huge crowd of witnesses to the life of faith, let us strip off every weight that slows us down, especially the sin that so easily trips us up. And let us run with endurance the race that God has set before us” (Hebrews 12:1). This verse has been recited so many times it has lost a lot of meaning, but just the other day it clicked. It makes a world of difference to read it in the context of the preceding chapter, instead of reading the verse in isolation as is so often done. Paul is saying, “Look at the people I’ve just listed. Look at all God accomplished through them because of their faith. They are your heritage, they’ve handed off the baton to you, and now they are sitting in the stands cheering you on as you run your leg of the race. You’re one of them; their God is yours. You will see God work powerfully in your life if you let yourself be caught up into the epic that they were living in—His story.”

So with that mindset, I keep running no matter what is ahead and I trust God to be faithful, as He has been faithful so far. This track has had plenty of uphills and downhills, but God’s hand has been in it all, and in retrospect I wouldn’t change a thing if I could. He has been with me through countless transitions, upheavals, and storms, and He has blessed me beyond measure. As the prophet Isaiah said:

Even youths will become weak and tired,
And young men will fall in exhaustion.
But those who trust in the Lord will find new strength.
They will soar high on wings like eagles.
They will run and not grow weary.
They will walk and not grow faint.

Isaiah 40:30-31

Through everything, God has continued to give me new strength for each step, for each new difficulty. When the deteriorating situation in the country we live in brought my family’s annual trips to the mountains to an end and later made us move from our home of twelve years to another city, God was still there. When my heart was broken in ninth grade and I was left devastated, God took my by the hand and helped me back up, and gave me strength to keep running. Time and time again, God has carried me over each hurdle that crosses my path.

So as I once again face an uncertain future, it is God whom I will continue to trust my life to. He is the One laying out the path before my feet. He has given me the passions and characteristics that have led me to choose a career in engineering—a love and gift for physics and math, an instinct for problem solving, an fascination from a young age with designing and building bridges and buildings out of Legos, playing cards, and anything else I could find that would do the trick—and has opened the door for it to happen. As I hear about Virginia Tech’s reputation and look at the Blacksburg area, all of which is very appealing, I believe that if Virginia Tech is where he wants me he will open the door financially. The race is in His capable hands.

The first thing to hit me was how little has changed after all, in terms of the themes I was writing about. If you read my blog regularly, a lot of what I wrote in this essay should sound familiar. I’ve come back to this analogy time and time again over the years. I gave a talk in my Engage Group towards the end of this past semester about this. While some of these concepts have developed further in my mind since writing this, I used a lot of the same points and these same verses in that talk as I did in this essay. Reading it in an essay I wrote three years ago was kind of crazy.

The second thing to hit me was what wasn’t in that list of difficulties, because it hadn’t happened yet. I knew I was facing a huge transition and an uncertain future, but I don’t think I really knew just how tough it would end up being. Since writing those words, I went through what is to date my greatest trial yet. And yet again, God proved that he is worthy of my trust.