Brothers and sisters, Aloha!
Let’s travel back to the year AD 65, the city of Rome. The Apostle Paul1 knew he was about to die,2 and as he wrote his last letter to his protégé Timothy, he was in a reflective mood. Chained to a Roman soldier,3 I imagine he looked back on what he had accomplished and what he had endured: whipped almost to death five times; beaten within an inch of his life three times; stoned and left for dead once; shipwrecked three times; betrayed by false brethren; left hungry, cold, and naked; all the while worrying about keeping the encroaching apostasy at bay4—his list of trials goes on and on.
But I also imagine he thought about his triumphs. Ever since his miraculous conversion on the road to Damascus, he had transformed himself from a tentmaker to a worldwide missionary, spreading the good news of Christ. As he prepared for his death, he undoubtedly thought of the eternal friends he had made, the souls he had helped to save, and his unfailing faith in doing the Lord's will.
“I have fought a good fight,” he wrote to Timothy. “I have finished my course, I have kept the faith: Henceforth there is laid up for me a crown of righteousness.”5
I don't think Paul chose this analogy carelessly. Its meaning and application to our lives, 2,000 years later, is a remarkable manifestation of the power of the scriptures and how we can apply them in our lives. I hope, with the assistance of the Holy Spirit, to help us all understand a little bit better what Paul was trying to tell Timothy—and us.
To do that, I invite you on a metaphorical run with me during the next half hour. To begin, let me help us prepare for our run by giving this scripture some context. I love the Apostle Paul, and I've always admired his courage and conviction. We know quite a bit about him because he wrote much of the New Testament.
Though most of the Savior's apostles were simple “men of Galilee,”6 Paul was born in Tarsus, a large trading town renowned for its university. He was a Roman citizen as well as a Jew7, which gave him a higher social standing than most Hebrews. He was trained a Pharisee and was taught by a famous rabbi8 in classical literature, philosophy, and ethics. He could speak several languages. In short, Paul was a pretty cosmopolitan guy for his time.9
I’m convinced Paul was a sports fan.10 He lived in an area where there were lots of sporting events, and he often drew on these slices of everyday life to teach eternal principles—much like our Church leaders using the Olympics as examples in their sermons.11
Each of those verses is a sermon in itself, but your shoes are laced up and you’re ready to go. As the starting gun goes off, let’s explore a little more the verse to Timothy I started with: “I have fought a good fight; I have finished my course.”12
Fought the Good Fight
For the first lap, let’s explore what Paul meant when he said he fought a good fight. There are three elements to fighting good fights I’d like to focus on:
- Choose our battles
- Never surrender
- Be good sports
Choose Our Battles
We all know people who seem ready to rumble at any moment. In Pidgin, we hear, “Ho, brah — you like scrap?”13 But not every fight is worth fighting. The Book of Mormon provides a couple of examples.
I marvel at the people of Ammon. After turning from their murderous, wicked ways, they buried their weapons and covenanted to never fight again. Even with the invading army bearing down upon them, they were committed to not fight.
“Now there was not one soul among all the people who had been converted unto the Lord that would take up arms against their brethren; nay, they would not even make any preparations for war.”14
The people of Ammon chose wisely not to fight.
Later in the book of Alma, we see when it is appropriate to choose to fight. The Lamanites were so mad that the people of Ammon wouldn’t fight them that they decided to go fight the Nephites instead. Captain Moroni and other righteous warriors “were inspired by a better cause, for they were not fighting for monarchy nor power but they were fighting for their homes and their liberties, their wives and their children, and their all.”15
These examples teach us that we should follow the Spirit to know when to fight. Let’s choose our battles wisely. If our roommate hasn’t cleaned her side of the room, is that really worth fighting about? If someone gives us stink-eye, or cuts us off on the road, or disparages our second cousin, is that worth fighting for? Maybe sometimes it is, but we should always listen to the promptings of the Spirit first and make sure our motives are as pure as the people of Ammon, or the Nephites when their very way of life was threatened, before we decide to put up our dukes.16
Let’s look at a historical example to illustrate this concept.17
In the early days of World War II, England watched anxiously as Europe fell to the Nazi war machine. Winston Churchill gave three remarkable speeches to convince his country that this was a fight worth fighting for. Certain phrases from these speeches have become quite famous:
“I have nothing to offer but blood, toil, tears and sweat. … [W]hat is our aim? …Victory.”18
“[W]e shall fight on the beaches, we shall fight on the landing grounds, we shall fight in the fields and in the streets, we shall fight in the hills; we shall never surrender[!]”19
“If we can stand up to [Hitler], … men will still say, This was their finest hour.”20
Sometimes, we might be afraid to fight. We might be tired, or without hope, or resigned to let evil prevail. When we feel this way, let’s remember Churchill’s stirring words. When the fight is worth fighting for, let us aim for victory, let us never surrender, and let it be our finest hour.
Be Good Sports
Fighting a good fight also includes fairness, ethics, and respect.22 A good fight usually has good sports on both sides, but we should always be good no matter what our opponents do.
Let’s ask ourselves, “Would we rather be a Mike Tyson, with a taste for ears,23 or a gentleman boxer who follows the rules?”
I think Heavenly Father cares more about our character during athletic contests than he cares about the outcome.24 In our daily battles, let’s remember to be good sports. President Monson has called good sportsmanship “a goal beyond victory.”25
So, let’s choose our battles by listening to the Spirit and examining our motives. When we choose to fight, let us never give up. And let’s be good sports about it.26
I Have Finished My Course
We’ve finished the first lap—fighting good fights—so let’s turn, now, to the second part of Paul’s declaration—“I have finished my course.” Some Bible translations render this “I have finished the race.”27
I’m one of those weird people who love to run. Running for me is an outlet. I joke that running keeps me from beating my kids. You can probably tell how high my stress level is by the distance I run. If you see me on the road by Turtle Bay, I’m doing fine. If I’m past Haleiwa, I’m working through some stuff. It’s my thinking time—time for me to meditate and work through problems.
For me, running is also an exercise in self-control, similar to fasting. When we fast, we are putting our spiritual needs over our physical needs. When I run, it’s mind over matter. My brain and my heart tell my body, “We’re going to survive this, so quit whining.” Paul describes it better than I: “But I keep under my body, and bring it into subjection.”28
Let’s spend this lap of our run together sharing a smattering of lessons learned and personal applications that might help you as you run your own races.
Seek the Prize
Paul wrote to the Corinthians, “Know ye not that they which run in a race run all, but one receiveth the prize? So run, that ye may obtain.”29 In modern language, we might translate that to say, “Run to win!”
What kind of prize is Paul talking about? Many races have different kinds of prizes.30 The top prize for the Boston marathon is $150,000. The Jamba Juice Banana Man Chase winners get free smoothies for a year.31 My kids like doing that race, not because they expect to win but because they get a free smoothie at the finish.32 Some races have a finisher’s medal or T-shirt. That’s the kind of prize Paul wants us to seek—prizes for finishing. In the race of life, the crown of righteousness is like a finisher’s medal; there is no grand prize. In Ecclesiastes, we read, “The race is not to the swift, nor the battle to the strong.”33 It’s an endurance race.
Elder Holland tells us, “We are not in a race against each other to see who is the wealthiest or the most talented or the most beautiful or even the most blessed. The race we are really in is the race against sin.”34 That’s the kind of race where anyone who tries hard enough, and endures to the end, will get a prize.
I’ve been coaching Cross Country here since 2010, and it’s a marvelous experience. We have amazing student-athletes who do amazing things, and it’s a privilege for me to be a small part of their lives. When I started coaching, I had no real idea what to do. There’s some technique to running, and some minimal equipment, but it’s not like I had to teach the runners set plays or go over each player’s position. Often, my coaching came down to this: “Well, try running faster.”
But as I’ve learned more about coaching—through much trial and error, and also by watching and listening to Coach K35—I’ve realized that coaching is helping people see what they can’t see themselves. A coach gives guidance and direction. A coach is there to share in the glory and agonize with you in defeat.
When runners want to come to BYU–Hawaii, they fill out a questionnaire so I can get to know them better. One of the questions is “How coachable are you?” If they aren’t coachable, which means willing to listen and do what I suggest, then I know it’s going to be a bit harder for them to fit in. Our team needs athletes who are willing to listen, who are willing to change, and who are willing to admit that coaches can see things athletes can’t see themselves.
Our head coach in this race of life should be the Holy Spirit.36
When we take the Holy Spirit as our guide,37 or coach, we will be warned of upcoming obstacles. The Holy Ghost can point out our weaknesses and help us fine-tune our spiritual stride. He can whisper encouraging words of hope no matter how down we are. As we prove worthy to receive his promptings, we will be motivated to try running faster. As we swallow our pride and become more coachable, the Spirit will whisper God’s will to us, making us better than we could ever be ourselves.
Sometimes, we also might need the help of assistant coaches, or spiritual athletic trainers. Our bishop and other church leaders can help us when we’re spiritually injured. Our family and friends can help us persevere. Let’s not try to run our life’s race without any coaching. Let’s be coachable, so we can be better.
The Importance of Training
Training is an essential part of our race.38 Once we’re at the starting line, “the time for preparation is past.”39 Getting the miles in each week, finding the race in every workout, and breaking our muscles down to build them back up are all principles of training. King Benjamin gave an excellent training strategy in his speech on the tower: “See that all these things are done in wisdom and order; for it is not requisite that a man should run faster than he have strength. … He should be diligent, that thereby he might win the prize.”40
We don’t just train our bodies, though. There’s a Hawaiian principle called Lokahi, which means balance or harmony.41
For Cross Country, we use Lokahi as a triangle to remind us that we need to be in balance with our mind—school work, positive attitudes; our body—training, nutrition, and rest; and our spirit—keeping ourselves spiritually healthy. When any one of those things is out of balance, it affects the other areas, and we aren’t training the best we can.
As we train, we measure performance42 to track progress. If something unexpected happens—injury, sickness, a new-found love—we adjust our training. It’s important, when we train, to keep the end goal in mind and not get so focused on the immediate. Elder Marvin J. Ashton said, “The direction in which we are moving is more important than where we are at the moment.”43
The same principles apply to our training for everyday races. We have to prepare—mind, body, spirit—and have harmony in our lives. Sometimes we have to face the same temptation over and over again. When we do, we’re training ourselves to have self-mastery. The obstacles we’re given in life make us stronger. We need to measure our performance, so we can tell we’re improving but remember to not get caught up in where we are at the moment—keep the end in mind. All that training during our daily races helps us to be prepared, ready, and in excellent condition for the race to win our crowns of glory.
I ran the Wasatch Back Ragnar in 2012. A Ragnar race is a relay that covers about 200 miles or so. Teams of 12 runners are assigned segments of the course and hand off the baton to the next runner. It’s basically two days of driving through some beautiful country, hopping out of the van to run like mad, then doing it again and again while you try to occasionally eat and sleep.
My second leg was an 8-mile uphill jaunt up to East Canyon reservoir.45 I started a bit hesitant because I wasn’t sure what to expect, and I hadn’t had time to adjust to the altitude. Then, a thought came to my mind: “Kevin, you live the Word of Wisdom. You’re promised that you can run and not be weary, and walk and not faint.” That thought filled my body with energy and determination, and I flew up that mountain! I felt such joy and happiness that I couldn’t help offering encouragement to all the runners I passed (much to their chagrin) and reveling in the beauty of the world around me and the miracle that our bodies are.
When we have confidence that we’re doing what is right, our Heavenly Father will help us in our races. He won’t take the mountains away, but he will help us get up them. He’s promised us that when we do His will and follow His coaching, we’ll be strong. With each covenant we make with God, He promises us so many wonderful blessings, and we should be confident in our abilities to live up to our eternal potential.
“But they that wait upon the Lord,” Isaiah wrote long ago, “shall renew their strength; they shall mount up with wings as eagles; they shall run, and not be weary; and they shall walk, and not faint.”
Follow the Rules
Paul didn’t tell Timothy, “I ran a great fun run!” Rather, he said he finished his course, which implies structure, rules, boundaries, and following instructions.
Each racecourse has its own rules. I’ve been in races where it’s fine to help another runner out. I’ve been in others where assisting another runner would disqualify both of us. Some races are timed to the minute and some to the hundredths of a second. One awesome race I was in had the finish line at the bottom of a children’s playground slide.
Just like different races have different rules, we have different rules at different times in our lives. Some rules are constant—like the commandments and doctrines of the Kingdom—but some rules apply to a specific situation. I believe what matters most is the integrity we have within us to live the rules of the current race we’ve been given, and that’s how we’ll be judged.
One of the rules of this BYU–Hawaii race we’re running is the Honor Code. Each of us, whether student or employee, has committed to live by the Honor Code and Dress and Grooming standards. Those are the rules that are in place for this race right now.
I must admit when I first got to BYU, I was surprised to hear students complain about the Honor Code and Dress and Grooming standards. To me, it was part of the package of being there. I had my agency to decide whether to go to that school or not. If I wanted to wear shorts above the knee, or drink, or smoke, or pierce my ear, I had the choice to go elsewhere. Once I decided to attend that school, I also decided to live by its rules. It wasn’t a question of whether bearded men go to the Celestial Kingdom but rather a question of Honor—my honor.
I once ran in a Warrior Dash. A Warrior Dash is a 5k race with all kinds of obstacles mixed in—climbing ropes, wading through water, jumping over fire, and sliding through mud.
It was a lot of fun. In my heat, I was in the front with another guy when we got to the first obstacle—a 4-inch balance beam on an incline. I was a bit surprised when he ran around the beam while I teetered my way across. I felt a bit of vindication, though, when a course marshal told the guy he had to go back and do the obstacles.
“I have to do all the obstacles?” the guy asked, somewhat incredulously. “I just want to run!”46
So, when I hear of people complain about how restrictive the Honor Code is, or I see people openly rebelling against the Dress and Grooming standards, I think of that guy at the Warrior Dash who was upset he wasn’t able to make his own rules.
Paul uses another sports analogy to remind Timothy of this concept: “And if a man also strive for masteries, yet is he not crowned, except he strive lawfully.”47 We only get the prize if we follow the rules of the contest.
Another part of following a course is getting good directions and following them. There’s a fun race called the Mango Madness,48 a challenging 10-mile course in the mountains, and part of the fun is people get lost every year, sometimes running quite a few more miles than they should.
The first time I ran the Mango Madness, I was nervous because I didn’t know the course at all. I listened very carefully to the instructions before the race, so I would know what to do. Unfortunately, the instructions were something like this: “OK, head out toward the top, then go through Ginger Gate. Take the second left, that’s different from last year, and then go around the banyan tree the other way because the trail got washed out a bit. OK. Go!”
I was lost before we even started. I wondered, “Is Ginger Gate made out of ginger, or is it manned by a red-headed volunteer?” Now, luckily, I’m hardly ever first in races, so it was easy to follow someone, and I tucked in right behind a guy running about my same pace. It soon became apparent that guy didn’t know where he was going either. He turned left when I was pretty sure we were supposed to turn right, so we grinned at each other and parted ways, each secretly wishing the other would get lost so we could move up in the final results.
I felt confident I had chosen wisely until I came down a steep hill to a T in the road. I had no idea where to turn. There was no one around—just me and the mango trees. I tried looking for footprints, marking ribbons, anything but was absolutely flummoxed. I stood there for two minutes, trying to figure out what to do, watching precious seconds tick by, when I finally heard someone way up the hill shout, “To the right!” As I looked back, I saw that from where he was, he could see where the road went. He also looked very confident, so trusting that he knew the course, I turned right and raced on ahead.
That experience helped me to realize how important it is to get clear instructions, follow them, and hope for the best.
How does that apply to you? Well, we get instructions in life through the scriptures, church leaders, teachers, coaches, family, and friends. Sometimes, when we’re following someone who is starting to stray, we need to make the tough decision to let friendships go and turn back to the main path. Occasionally, someone higher on the hill, who knows the course and can see where to go, will give us helpful directions if we trust their experience and insight.
Making Marathons Harder
Not too many people have run a marathon—in the United States, it’s about .5% of the population.49 I ran my first marathon in college and checked it off my bucket list. But after we moved to Hawaii, and I started eating too many loco-mocos,50 I decided I needed to run another one. Ever since then, I’ve been hooked.
As hard as a marathon is, some people have purposely made it harder. There are all kinds of weird records for marathons. For example:
The record for tallest costume worn in a marathon was set by someone dressed as a 23-foot tall giraffe. There are records for fastest marathon while juggling, while running backwards,51 and juggling while running backwards.52 A guy from Missouri knitted a 12-foot scarf while running a marathon, wearing sunglasses so he wouldn’t poke his eyes out if he fell.53
One of my favorites is Tony the Fridge Man who runs marathons with a 92-pound mini fridge strapped to his back. He does it to raise funds and awareness for cancer research and has accomplished all kinds of amazing feats.54
As entertaining as those records are, or as noble as it is to draw attention to cancer research, I believe there’s a lesson to be learned. As we run our race, we often make it harder than we should.
My dear friends, I implore you, with all the love and sincerity I can muster, to shed the weight of sin you might be carrying around with you during your race. None of us is perfect, and we all have improvements to make. But some sins weigh upon us more heavily. If you pray each night asking for blessings, but you know deep down you’re trying to hide something from the Lord, you’re carrying around a mini fridge. If you are uncomfortable when you feel the Spirit because every time you do, you remember something you need to repent of, you’re carrying around a mini fridge. If you say to yourself, “I’ll confess later,” you’re actually saying, “I’ll carry this mini fridge around some more.” If you say to yourself, “What I did wasn’t really that bad,” you’re just denying how much that fridge really weighs. I promise you, I promise you, that if you make the decision today to start the steps of repentance, you will feel as if a mini fridge has been taken off your back. As you confess to your bishop, as hard or as embarrassing as it might be, you will come to realize how much easier it is to run your race without extra baggage. Most amazingly, you will find that our Heavenly Father can now use you to run faster or even help others with their own self-imposed burdens. If you’re carrying around a mini fridge, I challenge you to drop it—today.
Paul sums up this idea perfectly, in his letter to the Hebrews: “Let us lay aside every weight, and the sin which doth so easily beset us, and let us run with patience the race that is set before us.”55
Joy in the Journey
A while back, I woke up one morning with the plan to run to Walmart. I was getting ready for a distance race, and when I developed my training plan about a month earlier, it was easy to put that on the calendar. But as I walked out the door at 3:30 AM, I wasn’t too happy about my ambitious plan the month before. I was tired. I hadn’t eaten exactly right the night before. My favorite running shirt was in the wash. I knew it was going to rain. I was in a bad mood. As I grumbled and stretched, thinking of just going back to bed, my coach whispered in his still small voice, “Find the joy in the journey.”56 The change was almost instantaneous. I looked up at the sky with its millions of stars. I felt the cool breeze on my cheek. I remembered, once again, how lucky I am to live in Hawaii.
That day was an awesome run. It rained hard about one mile into it, and instead of grumbling about the potential chafing, I thanked God for keeping it cool. As the sun touched the clouds at Mile 8, I was thankful for the miracle of every sunrise and the beauty of God’s creations. I marveled at the power of the North Shore waves. I was grateful for the sweet smell of the pineapple fields. I reveled at another chance to prove to my body that I could control it and run up that final hill in Mililani even though my calf muscles wanted to give up and lie at the side of the road. My run was full of precious spiritual experiences and promptings, which I will never forget. And I could have missed all that because of my attitude.
Ever since that day, I make it a point, as much as I can, to smile when I run. I probably look very foolish, and sometimes it’s a forced smile, but I remember how important attitude is.
Sometimes for Cross Country workouts we go for a fun run in the mud, or the jungle, or have horses chase us. We make it fun.
As we go through our races, let’s always remember to find the joy in the journey. As midterms approach, take a minute to smell a flower. If you break up with someone who’s not quite “the one,” reflect on the good times and look forward to meeting more people. Count your blessings. Smile through the pain. President Uchtdorf told us this past General Conference, “There is one thing we can do to make life sweeter, more joyful, even glorious. We can be grateful!”57
There is nothing as joyous as a well-stocked aid station when you really need one. I’ve seen all kinds of aid stations—some just have a gallon of water hidden in a bush or one kid lazily pointing the way to turn. Some have so much good food and drink you’re tempted to stop and graze for a while. The point is many courses have help along the way, especially at points where runners need it most. Aid stations are carefully planned out by course directors to provide direction, point out pitfalls, and replenish energy. As we run our races, let’s not ignore the aid stations around us.
Elder Joseph B. Wirthlin said, “You young people also have ‘aid stations’ to help you keep moving along your course. They should include your parents, other family members, ward leaders, and teachers who have ‘run more races’ and are farther along the path of life. Benefit from the experience they have accumulated.”58
We’re surrounded by spiritual aid stations. We have daily aid stations of scripture study and prayer. We have the weekly aid station of the Sacrament where we’re spiritually fed a reminder of the covenants we’ve made. We have an eternally significant aid station just up the hill in the temple, where we can rest from the worries of our race, remind ourselves of the straitness of the path, and fortify ourselves against whatever trials might lay ahead.
Perhaps now and then we also have the opportunity to be someone else’s aid station. As we pay attention to the runners around us, we might, now and then, share a word of encouragement or, more importantly, provide some spiritual nourishment to a fellow runner struggling along. President Monson said, “You and I do not run alone. That vast audience of family, friends, and leaders will cheer our courage, will applaud our determination as we rise from our stumblings and pursue our goal.”59
The Run to the Sun on Maui60 had great aid stations, and I was grateful for each one of them. Each station had positive people and delectable food—the one at Mile 29 had whole baked potatoes!
The best part of that race, though, was that, starting at Mile 26, my eternal companion was at every aid station. She’d wait for me to come through, give me a word or two of encouragement, flash a beautiful smile, and then drive ahead to the next one and wait for me. But it’s not just at races. My wife is my everyday aid station. Through the longest day or the darkest night, I’m blessed to have her there, to help me and to forgive me, always encouraging me to be better, run my best, and endure to the end. If you haven’t yet found your eternal companion, I encourage you to think about the person who will have the qualities you’ll need at your own personal aid station. If you are married, I encourage you to consistently think of what your spouse might need at his or her aid station and be the best support you can.
Falter or Finish
There comes a point in every race where we have to decide what to do. Do I give in to the pain, or do I gut it out? We talk about that often in Cross Country practice. Many of our workouts are for what I call “Pain Management 101.” We practice experiencing pain and conditioning our hearts and minds to tell our body to continue on. Then, when we’re in a race, and faced with the question to push through or quit, we’ve been conditioned to know what to do.
So it is with life. President Monson said, “The difficulties which come to us present us with the real test of our ability to endure. A fundamental question remains to be answered by each of us: Shall I falter, or shall I finish?”61
One Saturday morning, I hit the road bright and early, and I felt great. I had 20 miles scheduled on my training calendar, but it was such a beautiful day, and I was feeling so great, I decided to stretch it to 26. When I turned around at Waimea Bay to head home, I realized part of my feeling great was I had had a nice tailwind the whole way out. I knew I’d have to fight the wind all the way back. I soon found out that feeling fine at Mile 9 doesn’t mean you’ll feel so keen at Mile 14.
The rest of the run was a disaster.62 I hadn’t eaten right the day before, so I didn’t have much in the tank. It rained on me, and I was chafing. It was hot and windy. I kept my eyes down on the road, hoping to find enough change for bus fare, so I could catch a ride home. I shuffled along, stopping for a drink whenever I could, until I finally made it home.
That day helped me later in a race. When I came to the moment of decision—to falter? or to finish—I thought back to how I felt, scanning the road for bus money, and how I had survived. “If I survived that day,” I said to myself, “I can push through the pain to finish this race.”
Let’s each of us learn from our past pains and decide today to endure to the end.
I know some runners who don’t want to enter a race unless they know they’ll win it. I’m not that kind of runner—first of all, I’m not fast enough but also some of my greatest lessons have come when I’ve failed.
There’s a Japanese proverb: 猿も木から落ちる(Saru mo ki kara ochiru), which means “Even monkeys fall from trees.”63 No matter how good we are at something, we can’t be perfect all the time. Don’t be afraid to get back up, dust yourself off, and get right back into it. A poem called “The Race” by D.H. Groberg64 tells the story of a young boy who falls down three times during a race. Each time he falls, he wants to give up—his dreams of victory shattered—yet as he thinks of facing his father at the finish line, who’s been such an encouragement to him, he gets back up.
Three times he'd fallen, stumbling;
Three times he rose again;
Too far behind to hope to win
He still ran to the end.
They cheered the winning runner
As he crossed the line first place.
Head high, and proud, and happy;
No falling, no disgrace.
But when the fallen youngster
Crossed the line last place,
The crowd gave him the greater cheer,
For finishing the race.
And even though he came in last
With head bowed low, unproud,
You would have thought he'd won the race
To listen to the crowd.
And to his dad he sadly said,
"I didn't do too well."
"To me, you won," his father said.
"You rose each time you fell.”
When we want to give up, hopefully we can think of our Heavenly Father anxiously waiting for us to get back on our feet and continue our race, so He can meet us at our finish line and give us our prize.
Let’s start the final lap of our run together today as I share two more examples that bring this all together.
This experience about fighting the good fight and finishing the race is tender to me. A couple of years after we moved to Hawaii, I got a new best friend — Lausi’i Tafua, Jr. The Tafua family was in our ward, and I had worked with Junior in the Young Men’s program. One day, out of the blue, I got a call from his wife Diane. She explained that the TV show “Wheel of Fortune” would soon be filming in Honolulu for what was called “Best Friends Week.” Instead of one person spinning the wheel and guessing the phrases, teams of best friends would be competing. Diane said she wanted Junior to be on the show, and Junior said he’d only do it if they could think of someone who would be good at the game, so she asked if I would be Junior’s best friend and audition for the show.
We didn’t make it past the second tryout round, but over the years our families have joked about our “bestie” relationship. Shortly after that TV tryout, Junior found out he had cancer. Over the next several months, he fought a horrible fight, riding the knife’s edge of killing the cancer without killing his body. Through perseverance and faith, with loving support from family and friends, he completed that course, with the cancer going into remission.
Fast forward several years, and in 2012 Junior faced another fight. The cancer was back. With a daughter Nalia leaving soon on a mission, another daughter Maila headed for college, and his only son Mika just a couple of years away from receiving the Melchizedek Priesthood, Junior was faced with another decision. Should he choose to fight again? The prognosis, even with radiation and chemotherapy, wasn’t promising, but Diane and his family wanted him to persevere.
As the months passed, though, Diane saw what Junior was going through—his pain and suffering, his strong body wasting away from the battle. She struggled with her feelings—she hated seeing her eternal companion in such agony, but weren’t her desires righteous? Adding to the stress of taking care of her husband and her family, Diane wondered whether this was a fight worth fighting.
Ultimately, through some very special experiences, Diane came to know that Junior’s fight should come to an end. Once she received that confirmation, both she and Junior felt the peace that comes from submitting to the Lord’s will, even though it’s not the course we might have designed for ourselves. On February 10, 2014, Junior’s fight was over, and he finished his course. Free from the pain of his mortal experience, I believe he now watches over his family while they run their own races—part of an unseen support team we often take for granted.
As he approached the end, I had a good final visit with Junior. We laughed once more about almost being famous TV buddies and other precious moments. But I also remember his looking straight into my eyes and saying, “I’m at peace. I’m ready to go home. I want to see you in Heaven when it’s your turn, so you’d better be good.” Junior’s example and his admonition has had a profound impact on my life. I decided I needed to run my own race a little better because I want to be with him, my best friend, when my course is finished.
The Ultimate Example
Let me finish with the ultimate example of fighting the good fight and finishing a course—our Savior Jesus Christ.
He knew when to pick His battles.65 I think of the Savior's gentle rebuke to Peter when the guards of the chief priests came to arrest Him on that night of infamy. “Put up the sword,” He told Peter. “The cup which my Father hath given me, shall I not drink it?”66 Instead, His healing touch proved yet again that He was sent from God. Jesus knew it wasn't time to fight. A greater battle—much more powerful and personal—lay ahead.
Besides showing us when to fight the good fight, the Savior of the world, our elder brother, the Messiah, showed us how to finish our course. That final sorrowful night, He was given a race to run that we cannot even fathom. He had offered to run this race in the pre-mortal life.67 He had lived a perfect life of preparation. But, little by little, this race was getting harder.
First, His support team crumbled. As His soul became exceedingly sorrowful, His Apostles were filled with doubt, fear, and slumber.68 When He was arrested, they fled.69 His chief apostle betrayed Him three times.70
As the weight of the world—my sins and your sins—descended upon Him, He pled with the Father for some way out. In His words, “[This] suffering caused myself, even God, the greatest of all, to tremble because of pain, and to bleed at every pore, and to suffer both body and spirit—and would that I might not drink the bitter cup, and shrink.”71
We know what the Savior did. “[N]evertheless not as I will, but as thou wilt.”72 “[A]nd I partook and finished my preparations unto the children of men.”73
There was one more great and somewhat unexpected trial that awaited Him, however. As He was reaching for the finish line, anxious to be done and return to His glory, His greatest support, His constant companion, the Holy Spirit—our coach—withdrew from Him. I believe it was His greatest test yet, and it was the hardest to overcome. Jesus cried out in anguish, “My God, my God, why hast thou forsaken me?”74
In spite of that last, great obstacle, Jesus pressed on. Elder Holland says it well: “Finally and mercifully, it was ‘finished.’ Against all odds and with none to help or uphold Him, Jesus […] could say in triumph, ‘Father, into thy hands I commend my spirit.’”75
The Savior finished the greatest race ever run.
Brothers and sisters, as we sprint to the finish today, I’m grateful that Paul was inspired to write his trials and testimony and encourage us to fight good fights and finish our courses. I'm grateful for righteous men—often martyrs—who kept his words alive throughout the Dark Ages, so we can learn from him in our day.76 I am grateful for a loving Heavenly Father who has specifically designed my life to give me the challenges and joys I need most, so I can live up to my eternal potential, and He has done the same for you. I am grateful for the coaching of the Holy Spirit to help me run with patience the race that is set before me. And, ultimately, I am grateful for the Master, our Savior Jesus Christ, who fought the good fight on our behalf, who finished His course—even though He didn't want to—so we can repent of our sins, cast off our mini fridges, be forgiven, and at the judgment bar of our Eternal Father have our elder brother be our advocate to plead on our behalf. If we are worthy and if we have endured to the end, we will receive our own crown of righteousness and live forever with Paul in the glories of eternity. That each of us will finish our course and gain that glory is my hope and prayer. In the name of Jesus Christ, amen.
1. The Prophet Joseph Smith described Paul: “He is about five feet high; very dark hair; dark complexion; dark skin; large Roman nose; sharp face; small black eyes, penetrating as eternity; round shoulders; a whining voice, except when elevated, and then it almost resembled the roaring of a lion.” Quoted from Teachings of the Prophet Joseph Smith, sel. Joseph Fielding Smith , 180. However, an August 1999 Ensign article ("Paul: Untiring Witness of Christ") posits that perhaps he was citing an apocryphal source. There is The Acts of Paul and Thecla, a text from ~ AD 150 that describes Paul. However, Joseph Smith recounted how “divers angels, from Michael or Adam down to the present time” visited him (D&C 128:21), so perhaps the Prophet spoke from personal experience.
2. 2 Timothy 4:5.
3. Acts 27:1, Acts 28:16. The Augustan Regiment describes the Praetorian Guard, which over time became much more than just the emperor's bodyguards, becoming the “first office of the empire.” (Edward Gibbon, The History of the Decline and Fall of the Roman Empire, Vol. I, p. 159.)
4. 2 Corinthians 11:23-28.
5. 2 Timothy 4:7.
6. Acts 1:11.
7. Acts 22:25-28
8. Gamaliel (Acts 22:3)
9. Wallace, Quency E. "The Early Life and Background of Paul the Apostle." The American Journal of Biblical Theology. We can see this not only through his writings, but also in his knowledge of the current events and issues of his day. He felt comfortable in almost any setting, and often used contemporary events to teach the early Saints. His speech in Athens about the Greeks’ unknown god (Acts 17:16-34) is a wonderful example about building on common beliefs. But he was always true to his convictions and testimony, and never wavered in proclaiming what’s right. To me, Paul was a good example of being in the world but not of it (John 17:14-18).
10. Fascinating side note: a movement came into vogue during the Victorian era called “Muscular Christianity,” based largely on Paul’s teachings. It’s a commitment to piety and physical health. Read more here. Paul was mostly familiar with the Isthmian Games, similar to the Olympics. Athletes from all over Greece would gather near the city of Corinth every other Spring for these Games. Though it was dedicated to Poseidon, Paul saw that he could draw parallels from this slice of everyday life to teach the early Saints. It's believed that Paul was in Corinth during the games of AD 51. We imagine, since he was a tentmaker, that he went there not only to preach the gospel but to earn a living selling tents to all the tourists (This idea came from The Apostle Paul and the Isthmian Games. Biblical Archaeologist 25/1: 2-31, 1962a.). The Isthmian Games had contests in chariot races, wrestling, foot races, boxing, and music and poetic contests. I love the story that perhaps Nero himself participated in the singing contests in AD 66, (forcing the Olympics to be moved a year), and even though his voice was awful, he ended up winning (see http://www.didaskalia.net/issues/vol7no2/dahm.html). Perhaps Paul heard about that farce, and part of his letter to Timothy emphasized that he finished his course with faith and integrity, and deserved the prize. It’s interesting to note that these were all individual contests. Other areas of the world had team sports, but not so much in the Mediterranean. If Paul had been in China, perhaps his analogy would use the game cuju, or polo in Persia, or a pokatok court in ancient Mayan times. (An interesting note on Pokatok. Over the summer of 2014, our family went on a long road trip, which included spending time listening to audio books. One of the audio books was The 39 Clues: Unstoppable Book 3: Countdown, which included scenes from Guatemala. The book's characters spent a lot of time discussing Pokatok, and it became kind of a family joke. That's one of the reasons I listed it here.) But I think Paul liked the individuality of these contests, because he knew that each of us must work out our own salvation individually. Exaltation is not based on a team score.
11. Gary E. Stevenson's "Your Four Minutes" (General Conference, April 2014) and Robert L. Backman's "Swifter, Higher, Stronger" ( Liahona, July 1982) are just some examples.
12. It might seem strange to talk about finishing our course the third week of the semester, when our courses still seem so new. Let me briefly share an experience of mine that some of you might find helpful.
My first college exam was for my Economics 110 course. I had taken Economics in high school, and knew the laws of supply and demand. I figured I didn’t need to study—what else was there to know? As I settled in to my chair in the Testing Center, though, and read the first question, I felt the first tremors of foreboding. I skipped to the next question, thinking perhaps the professor had put the hardest one first just to scare us. But it wasn’t to be. As I glanced through page after page, graph after graph, I knew I was sunk.
25 percent. That’s the score of my first college test. But to make things worse, I made another mistake. I figured with a score that bad, I was too deep in the hole, too far gone. So, as much as I’m ashamed to admit it now, I just quit going to class.
I’m still embarrassed by that tough lesson, even though it happened before most of you were born. The story does have a happy ending, though. After my mission, when I had learned a few things about life and about myself—and economics—I retook that class and got an A. I finally finished that course.
But I digress, because that’s not the kind of course Paul was talking about finishing.
13. https://twitter.com/Markdlacrz/status/236690631186075648 is just one example of many.
14. Alma 24:6. President Gregory D. Hendrickson of the Kona, Hawaii, stake, gave a devotional March 5, 2013, entitled "The Spiritual Gift of a Forgiving Heart," that talks about whether forgiving hearts like this can make us weak: “This very dramatic example may give rise to the legitimate question of whether possessing the gift of a forgiving heart opens us up to becoming a doormat, or being taken advantage of by those that are insensitive or conspiring. How can we protect ourselves and our loved ones from those that see opportunity in knowing that we can be pushed without being easily provoked? These questions can be resolved by a glorious aspect of gifts of the Spirit. These gifts are only received and exercised under the influence of the Holy Ghost.” I recommend the whole talk.
15. Alma 43:45.
16. That means to prepare to fight. http://www.phrases.org.uk/meanings/put-up-your-dukes.html
17. In April 2009, Elder M. Russell Ballard gave a talk called, “Learning the Lessons of the Past.” In it, he quoted the phrase that those who cannot remember the past are condemned to repeat it. My son Truman, who was almost 10 at the time, shook his head and said, “I’m doomed! I can’t remember anything!”
21. How about this story of sportsmanship? In February, 2009, the Milwaukee Madison high school basketball team was playing against DeKalb, Illinois. Johntel Franklin missed the start of the game because his mom had died of cancer that very afternoon. He showed up late and entered the game, but because his name wasn't listed in the official scorebook, the team was assessed a technical foul. The other team’s coach asked the referees to forfeit the free throws, but was forced to send someone to the line to take the two shots anyway. Senior Darius McNeal went to the line, and despite a 2-point game, missed both shots badly—on purpose. After the game, Johntel said, “It's love. That's all it was that day was love.”“In Which Missed Free Throws Are the Game's Biggest Shots,” from Bleacher Report, Feb. 9, 2014. (http://bleacherreport.com/articles/1952368-great-moments-in-sportsmanship-that-hit-you-in-the-feels/page/8) A hard thing about preparing for this Devotional was searching for inspiring sports stories and getting lost in countless examples of sportsmanship and great stories.
23. The New York Times says it all: http://www.nytimes.com/1997/06/29/sports/tyson-disqualified-for-biting-holyfield-s-ears.html.
An interesting side note, it appears Evander Holyfield has forgiven Tyson, since Tyson delivered the presenting speech for Holyfield's induction into the Nevada Boxing Hall of Fame (http://edition.cnn.com/2014/07/22/sport/tyson-holyfield-hall-of-fame/). Also, there's a really funny Foot Locker commercial where Tyson gives Holyfield back the piece of ear he bit off (https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=9KMUnqB_NiU).
24. I’ve often thought about whether Heavenly Father cares about sports. I remember praying mightily in 1978 for the Denver Broncos, my favorite NFL team, to beat the Dallas Cowboys. I was devastated that my prayers weren’t answered, but it was a good lesson for a 7-year-old. My prayers weren’t answered for a long time, until, on the fifth try, the Broncos finally won a Super Bowl.
25. President Monson spoke in the October 1988 General Conference, “Goal Beyond Victory.” There are several great stories about his days playing sports, and an admonition about keeping Church ball clean.
26. The boxer Joe Frazier said, “Not everyone can be a champ—not everyone can be an athlete. But everyone can do his best to try to make something of himself” (https://mbr.org/forum/viewtopic.php?f=6&t=33138).
27. I really enjoy Bible Study Tools. http://www.biblestudytools.com/2-timothy/4-7-compare.html
28. 1 Corinthians 9:27.
29. 1 Corinthians 9:24.
30. One of the best prizes I’ve heard of for winning a race is the story of George D. Watt. When Heber C. Kimball started preaching in England, with great success, he scheduled the first baptisms on July 30, 1837. George won a footrace against eight other converts and won the right to be the first convert baptized in the British Isles (http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/George_D._Watt).
31. It’s not unlimited smoothies, unfortunately. You get 26 coupons for one free smoothie. In our family, those are usually gone quite quickly.
32. I always try to tell my kids that “free” stuff at the end of a race is actually part of the entrance fee, but they don’t consider it that way. I guess that’s an example of sunk costs, a principle of Economics I learned well the second time I took Econ 110.
33. Ecclesiastes 9:11.
34. "The Laborers in the Vineyard," General Conference, April 2012.
35. Coach Norman Kaluhiokalani has been the head cross country coach at BYU-Hawaii for more than 30 years. He first recruited me to be assistant coach. He’s a wonderful man, and a great mentor to me.
36. The second verse of the hymn “Let the Holy Spirit Guide,” describes the role of this ever-faithful coach: “Let the Holy Spirit Guide,” Hymn 143.
37. D&C 45:57.
38. There are countless different training programs, but they all have similar elements: physiology, or the mechanics of your body; running; and recovery, which allows muscles to heal and get stronger. That’s a huge simplification; if you’re interested in the details, take some EXS classes, or read some books on running physiology. But here’s the synopsis.
39. President Monson has often used this quote: "You Make a Difference," General Conference, April 1988; "Our Sacred Priesthood Trust," General Conference, April 2006; and "Whom Shall I Marry?" New Era, October 2004 are just a few.
40. Mosiah 4:27.
41. There are several sites that give a good treatise on the principle of Lokahi. Here’s one that captures a lot of the nuances: https://olalokahi.wordpress.com/tag/ola-lokahi/. I learned the concept from Coach K—just one of the countless things he’s taught me over the years.
42. Though this principle is attributed to President Monson, who has often said it, he quoted it “as a cardinal principle of industrial management: when performance is measured, performance improves. When performance is measured and reported, the rate of improvement accelerates” ("Thou Art a Teacher from God," General Conference, October 1970).
43. October 1983 General Conference talk entitled, “The Word Is Commitment.”
44. A great example of confidence comes from the Legend of Cliff Young. In 1983, Cliff Young signed up for the inaugural “Westfield Sydney to Melbourne Ultramarathon,” a multi-day race of 544 miles (875 kilometers). Cliff was a 61-year-old potato farmer in overalls and gum boots, and the race organizers were afraid for his safety. He assured them, however, that he had spent many years running over the countryside rounding up sheep, and he would be fine. The race started, and the other runners laughed at Cliff’s slow, steady shuffle as they left him far behind. At the end of the first day, when all the other runners were getting ready for bed, Cliff finally shuffled up. Imagine their surprise when he shuffled right past them—he wasn’t planning to sleep, but to do the whole race without stopping. Cliff won that race by 10 hours. Because of Cliff, the “Young shuffle” is now used by many ultra marathoners, and they all run through the night. Cliff’s confidence has rubbed off on others, and our confidence often can do the same thing—help people reach new heights, shatter records, or just finish.
A great tortoise and the hare story. Also interesting to note the race goes from the Westfield Parramatta shopping center in Sydney to the Westfield Doncaster in Melbourne—a nice piece of marketing (http://www.elitefeet.com/the-legend-of-cliff-young).
45. Here’s the description of the leg: https://www.ragnarrelay.com/race/wasatchback/legs/18.
46. I was amazed at two things: first, that the guy thought he could be proud of his finishing time without going through all those obstacles, and second, that he even signed up for the Warrior Dash if he just wanted to run. I mean, the waiver for the race was like 20 pages long! There were lots of other races—cheaper and cleaner—he could have entered if he just wanted to run.
47. 2 Timothy 2:5. The New International Version makes it a little more clear: “Similarly, if anyone competes as an athlete, he does not receive the victor’s crown unless he competes according to the rules.”
48. The HURT people are some of the best I know. It’s always a great time when you’re at one of their events. Very laid back, great food, and great fun (http://www.hurthawaii.com).
49. Marathon running statistics from 2012.
50. A loco moco is a nutritionally frightening dish, typically made of two big scoops of rice, a hamburger patty, and a fried egg, all smothered in gravy. For most of my Cross Country runners, I’d let them eat a loco moco once during the season.
51. This is just a sample of wacky marathon records: http://runhorowitz.com/2011/11/04/believe-it-or-not-weird-running-records/.
53. That’s actually a fascinating story I didn’t have time to share. Read it here.
55. Hebrews 12:1.
56. President Monson’s October 2008 talk, "Finding Joy in the Journey," is a typically great one on this theme.
57. "Grateful in Any Circumstances," General Conference, April 2014.
58. Elder Wirthlin gave an excellent talk entitled, “Running Your Marathon” in the October 1989 General Conference. It was tempting to just give that talk verbatim.
59. Thomas S. Monson, "Happiness - The Universal Quest," First Presidency Message, Ensign, October 1993.
60. Awesome 36-mile race that starts at the IHOP in Kahului and finishes at the summit of Haleakala—10,000 feet above sea level. I won it in 2008. (http://www.coolrunning.com/ur/features/hawaii_sun_36.shtml)
61. "I Will Not Fail Thee nor Forsake Thee," General Conference, October 2013.
62. For distance running, it’s important to train your body how to survive glycogen debt. Without getting into the details, on a long run your body has to switch from the sugars in your stomach to the sugars stored in your liver. If you’re not used to that, your body feels like you’re hitting a wall—thus the phrase. It takes a while for a body to get used to that, but you can condition yourself to have a smoother transition. It takes continual effort, and you have to do it several times for your body to get used to it. And the preparation is key. If you don’t prepare right, the results can be a bummer. Here’s a simple explanation of how glycogen is used in exercise: http://www.answers.com/Q/How_is_glycogen_used_during_exercise.
63. A great blog post, “Before Success Comes the Courage to Fail,” illustrates this concept.
64. Used by permission of the author, Dr. D. H. (Dee) Groberg. An illustrated poem is available on Amazon: http://www.amazon.com/The-Race-Lifes-Greatest-Lesson/dp/0446533076/ref=sr_1_1?ie=UTF8&qid=1411001157&sr=8-1&keywords=the+race+dh+groberg
65. After his 40-day fast, Satan came tempting him, trying to engage him in a battle of wits and power. The Savior, our Redeemer, wisely did not take the bait, and chose not to engage in the Devil's increasingly desperate attempts. Matthew 4:1-11. A fine article in the January 2013 Ensign by Michael Barber entitled "Helping Youth Become Powerful Learners and Teachers" posits that the Savior knew the scriptures so well he could deflect any temptation the adversary offered, and how the same kind of spiritual preparation and scripture knowledge help the youth in our day. But he didn't shy away when the time was right for battle. The 23rd chapter of Matthew contains some of the Savior's strongest words as he rebukes the scribes and Pharisees for their hypocritical actions. Calling them hypocrites seven times in just a few verses—as well as serpents and a generation of vipers—he asks how they expect to escape damnation because of their unrighteous acts. It's not often that we find an exclamation point in the scriptures, so I pay attention when I see one. This chapter is full of them, and I think of how the Savior must have sounded. According to this survey, there are 313 exclamation points in the KJV Bible! I haven't verified that. An article by Bruce M. Metzger discusses the potential problems translators had when it came to punctuation (http://www.biblicalstudies.org.uk/article_trans_metzger3.html), but that usually the context of the scripture gave clues on declarative, interrogative, and exclamatory sentences.
66. John 18:11. Other instances where Jesus chose not to fight: Standing mute before Harod, that fox, Jesus chose to avoid the fight (Luke 13:32. In most ancient Jewish contexts, foxes are insignificant little creatures (Nehemiah 4:3). For a lot more than you'd ever want to know about this, I present this blog post: http://trivialdevotion.blogspot.com/2014/05/herod-crazy-like-fox-luke-1332.html)
Asked to prophesy who it was who hit him while he was blindfolded, he chose not to take the bait. (Luke 22:64)
On the cross, a final time he was tempted: “He saved others; let him save himself, if he be Christ, the chosen of God” (Luke 23:35). He chose not to fight.
67. Moses 4:2.
68. Matthew 26:38-45.
69. Matthew 26:56.
70. Matthew 26:75.
71. D&C 19:18.
72. Matthew 26:39.
73. D&C 19:19
74. Matthew 27:46. Elder Holland explains why, in this race, it was essential for Jesus to finish completely alone. “It was required, indeed it was central to the significance of the Atonement, that this perfect Son who had never spoken ill nor done wrong nor touched an unclean thing had to know how the rest of humankind—us, all of us—would feel when we did commit such sins. For His Atonement to be infinite and eternal, He had to feel what it was like to die not only physically but spiritually, to sense what it was like to have the divine Spirit withdraw, leaving one feeling totally, abjectly, hopelessly alone.” Jeffery R. Holland, “None Were with Him,” General Conference, April 2009. This talk had a remarkable impact on my life when I heard it. My testimony of the reality of the Atonement and the love my Savior has for me individually was witnessed to me by the power of the Spirit.
75. Jeffery R. Holland, “None Were with Him,” General Conference, April 2009.
76. M. Russell Ballard gave a wonderful talk describing “The Miracle of the Holy Bible” in the April 2007 General Conference.