Written by Mike Verkaik/Elizabeth Bruxvoort
Two years ago I stopped teaching at Holland Christian High School (HC) to join Oceans Ministries. Since leaving I’ve maintained a relationship with the staff and students through occasional subbing, chapels, coaching track and leading teams of students to Beautiful Gate, Lesotho. Last week as I walked the halls at HC an English teacher stopped me to share a paper written by a senior on the track team named Elizabeth Bruxvoort.
After being asked to read writings by Frederick Buechner, she titled her paper
” The Grind after Grace”. While reading her paper, it became apparent she was telling part of my story, probably all of our stories as we strive to follow in the steps of Jesus. For the next two weeks, my hopes are you will be blessed and encouraged by excerpts from her paper, as she compares her grit in track and field to our walk with Jesus.
I remember the first time I cried because of a workout. It was thirty-three degrees and sleeting so hard you needed windshield wipers for your eyes. I stood at the start line for the 300, drowning in my rain soaked clothes and my bad attitude. Just an hour before, our meet had been cancelled due to bad weather and we’d all cheered.
“Not a chance he has us run in this,” a senior runner said, “It’d just be unhealthy.”
Confident we walked out of the locker room with short sleeves and high hopes of a warm, easy run inside. We’d enjoyed about two minutes of our wishful thinking before we were sent back in where we left our shorts and optimism behind. We waved goodbye to the school and walked reluctantly towards our outdoor workout.
Halfway through the workout everything was frozen but my legs, which burned. Our coach’s hand went down again signaling the start of yet another 300. I took off, pouring out everything I had, including my negative attitude. I heard my split again as I crossed the finish line. Slow. Again. I couldn’t’ breathe. I collapsed in a puddle, daring it to try to get me more wet and miserable than I already was.
Today was supposed to be easy, chanted the chorus in my head as my throat tightened and I fought back tears.
It was supposed to be easy. It was supposed to be easy. I felt cheated.
In some ways this year, I’ve felt cheated at HC. I’m not sure when exactly, but somewhere along the line I was led to believe it would be easy – a relationship with Jesus, that is. I’m positive no one explicitly said that from the chapel stage or in one of my Bible classes. … No one ever lied to me or intentionally led me astray. Instead, I believe my not-so-uncommon misconception was created by a culture that tries to make a relationship with Jesus sound appealing by making it sound simple. They do this by focusing on a very true, very beautiful reality of a relationship with Jesus, which is grace. But it’s time to stop pretending that grace is the goal. God’s gift of grace is designed to be our condition not our ambition.
We are all in desperate dependence on grace. We will never outgrow our need for grace since “nothing human’s not a broth of false and true” (Buechner 31) St. Godric understood his reliance on God’s grace, but he also understood that this reliance was not the sum of their relationship. Grace does not make us a saint.
The gift of grace is open to anyone, but not everyone goes down in history as a saint. Grace is the reality that equips us for the race, but it doesn’t necessarily give us the courage to continue after chasing our call. Sinners are saved by grace, but saints are shaped by grit.
As a middle distance runner, I’d like to think I know a thing or two about grit. The first thing I know is this: grit does not look glamorous. Grit is needed more often in seasons of failure than seasons of flourishing. Grit is what gets me out of bed before the sun rises on summer vacation to get in an eight-mile run before it hits eighty. Grit is what drives me to the finish line, even after the race has gotten messy. Grit will do the same for all of us who dare to believe that we have what it takes to become the saints God has called us to be.
A relationship with God was not intended to be simple, but satisfying.