Our son Brooks runs cross country and track. Now I ran track, but never did cross country. It takes place in the fall and if you are a spectator, it is like no other sport. As the name suggests, they run in country-like settings. Many of the courses might be in town but will go through wooded areas, across rough terrain, and through muddy patches. The courses are not in a nice straight path or even a smooth oval shape, though the start and finish lines are typically close together. If you are a parent of a cross country runner, you are guaranteed a good view if you stand near the start and then make your way over to the finish line. But, if you want to see them at other places throughout the race, you must go to them. There are no comfortable stands. Cross country is a spectator sport if you want to see the runners during the race. Recently I went to one of Brooks’ races that had a course laid out in the midst of a wooded area and included a brutal hill near the end that was covered in wood chips. It had rained just a few days before so the course had plenty of soggy places, too. I arrived early to figure out the best places along the course to catch a glimpse of Brooks. I staked out a place near the starting line and then after he ran by, I ran across a field to catch him and cheer him on at the second place, then ran to cheer him on at the third place near a stand of cedar trees, then ran to wait for him at the top of the tall hill. After filming him there, I was off to the finish line. After all that running (especially in tall grass by cedar trees which set off my allergies), I was tired! But I was so excited to be there I couldn’t imagine doing it any other way. He had run on the same course the previous year and I heard all about “that hill”. I considered it great fun to meet him at several places on the course to cheer for him, especially “that hill”.
As I reflected on it, I realized that it is a great image of what we are called to do in life. We need to think of the moments in people’s lives where we can run ahead and be there to cheer them on. We need to consider where the most difficult obstacles might be for someone and be there to give them all the encouragement they need to keep on running. At the end of the day, it is a joy to be a cheerleader in someone’s life. Who are the people in your life that you encourage and cheer on? What are the moments that they might need you to run ahead so that you can be there waiting on them? How can you strengthen someone else by your words and your actions. Find the joy in giving encouragement and make it your spectator sport.