A Resilient Life February 22, 2004 – by Gordon MacDonald
event is engraved upon my soul much like words carved into marble face
of a monument. I have described it often because it shaped the way I
look at life.
I was standing at the starting line-the leadoff runner-in a mile relay championship race at the world-renown Penn Relays in Philadelphia. Our team had drawn the second lane. The first lane was occupied by a
runner who, a few weeks before, had broken the American record in the
100 meter dash. He was fast..and he was cocky.
"May the best man win," he said as he hammered his starting blocks
into the cinder surface of the track. "I'll be waiting for you at the
It was trash talk, 1950's style. And it was intimidating to a skinny
15 year old who was competing in a large stadium with thousands of
people for the first time.
When the gun sounded, the man in lane one seem to disappear out of
his blocks, and the remaining six runners and myself (my suspicion)
settled instantly for a race for second place. We ran the first turn in
staggered lanes and then bunched together along the straight-away. Then, as
we neared the far curve, the runners now stretching out, I saw him. The
man in lane one-no longer running like lightening, but slowing almost
to a jog, hands on his hips, quitting the race and his teammates. As I
tore around him, I heard a loud groan-a combination of the pain of
exhaustion and a sense of frustration.
Often when I tell the story-this important moment in my life-I smile
and say, "Like a good Christian, I waited for him at the finish line."
When the race ended three laps later and our team began to celebrate
its performance, my coach, a remarkable man, put his hand on my
shoulder and drew me aside where no one could hear us. "I want you to
remember this moment all the days of your life," he said. "I heard what
he said to you at the start. And here’s what you must never forget: it makes little difference how fast you are in the 100 meters when the race is 400 meters long."
I was too young to appreciate the wisdom an older man had imparted
to me that day, but I never forgot the story. The wisdom-part came many
years later as I grew older and grasped the deeper meaning of what the
coach had said.
He had given me lesson one in resilience. Resilience-a word
you shall hear more and more in years to come-describes a person who
moves courageously through adversity, comes out the other end stronger
than ever and who-this is important-becomes a source of inspiration for
How utterly Biblical! The word describes Joseph of Egypt, Moses,
Caleb, Esther, Nehemiah, Mary of Nazareth, and St. Paul and a host of
others listed in Hebrews 11 as champions of faith.
Many, many years later the story of the race once again popped up on
the screen of my memory. But this time the words of the coach made
sense. "That’s what he was talking about," I said to myself. That’s why
I have repeated the story in two or three of my books.
And I have told it again in my newest book, A Resilient Life. Resilience in Christian living. How does it happen? What does it look like? How is it acquired?
In my fifties and early sixties, I had become impressed with how
many people I’d known through the years had dropped out. Failure and
defeat, life-exhaustion, distractions, lack of depth: they were just
some of the explanations for why you didn’t hear from some people
again.why their dreams seemed to vanish, why relationships collapsed,
why faith seemed to grow cold.
I myself was no stranger to failure, and there had been, many years
ago, every reason to believe that I too would drop out of the race. But
there were gracious, determined people (I call them angels) who found a
way to get me back into the race. And I kept running because of them
and the kind God who motivated them. And, I suppose, there was some
inspiration taken by the experience on the track many years ago.
The book of Hebrews is a book about resilience: the resilience of
Jesus and a call to people who were dropping out of the race to get
back into things. "Let us run the race before us," the writer says,
"looking unto Jesus."
My opinion: modern Christianity is not producing resilient
Christians who can run the distance. Sprinters? Yes. We’re surrounded
by a lot of people who seem to be running fast..but the race lasts for
a life time. And the secret is to run the second half of the race
faster, better than the first half.
That’s why I wrote, A Resilient Life. I wanted to ask
questions like: what are the core qualities that create resilience?
What turns people into "Calebs" who said, "Here I am, 85 years old, and
I am stronger today than I was (when I was half this age)".
A Resilient Life is not a book for aging people but for
younger people who want to look at life over the long haul-the
distance-and build into their spiritual spinal columns the qualities
that make every decade a purpose-driven life, even the last decade of
For me the thoughts started all the way back on a running track
and an encounter with an athlete who was full of himself, who was fast
but not resilient.