“The Race Is Not to the Swift nor the Battle to the Strong,” Tambuli, Feb. 1978, 42
Many of us have watched the Olympic Games and have marveled at the abilities of those athletes. I guess few of us will ever become Olympic competitors, all of us are involved in a race—the race of life. Even there it sometimes seems a little unfair that there are some who appear to be stronger, more capable, more effective than we are in that race. But perhaps we can draw some comfort from the scripture that indicates to us “that the race is not to the swift, nor the battle to the strong.” (Eccl. 9:11.) Time and again the scriptures indicate that he who endures to the end, the same shall be saved. The race of life is not a sprint, it is not the 100-meter dash, nor is it really a middle-distance run. It’s a marathon run. It’s a long-distance run. The Lord says this: “And again, I would that ye should learn that he only is saved who endureth unto the end.” (D&C 53:7.) If you’ll read in the index of the Doctrine and Covenants, you’ll see at least 12 references to the fact that only he who endures to the end shall be saved.
I’d like to talk about the race of life. It’s kind of a hard race at times. It begins early. I guess it starts in earnest when we reach the age of accountability. Sometimes even in the teens the race is not that pleasant. Later as you look back on your high school days, you’ll probably remember this.
People almost never forget their teens. Even 20 or 30 years later people can recall those difficult experiences of their high school days. You will remember when you felt, perhaps, that the race was hard because you were too short or too skinny or you had to wear glasses or braces, or you even had acne. All of those things are a torment to the soul as you go through these difficult times and envy those who are taller, stronger, nicer looking.
In this test of life, none of us was promised an easy race. Let me read quickly from Hebrews, where Paul, who knew much of the race of life, said this:
“And let us run with patience the race that is set before us …
“My son, despise not thou the chastening of the Lord, nor faint when thou art rebuked of him:
“For whom the Lord loveth he chasteneth, and scourgeth every son (or daughter) whom he receiveth.
“If ye endure chastening, God dealeth with you as with sons; for what son is he whom the father chasteneth not?” (Heb. 12:1, 5–7.)
So if the race sometimes seems difficult, perhaps that is part of the plan of the Lord for you.
Where are you currently, this time, this day, in this race of life? Where are you to be found? For some I find that they are ready to give up on themselves. The race is too difficult; the obstacles appear to be too hard. They may have failed an exam, lost a girlfriend, committed a sin, and they are ready to give up the race. When I was a campus bishop, I had ward members who would come to visit with me and say, “Bishop, I’ve gone too far. It is not possible for me to repent and come back. I might as well give up.” They had forgotten that the Lord has indicated that “though your sins be as scarlet, they shall be as white as snow.” (Isa. 1:18.) There is the possibility of repentance. There is the possibility of new goals. There is the possibility of a fresh start if we will not give up on ourselves, if we will not decide too early that the race is too difficult for us.
There are others who are ready to give up on someone else. They have decided already that they have a parent or a brother or a sister or a friend or a roommate who is not worth it. This person may seem to be too rigid, too set in his ways, too far gone, and they have decided that the race is over for him. Such should never be the case. President David O. McKay has said that no success will compensate for failure in the home. Elder Marvin J. Ashton sometime later said we have only failed when we have given up, when we have stopped trying. So I would admonish all of us to remember for ourselves and for others that the race is never over as long as we remain in this life. We should never give up on ourselves or on others.
In this race there are some who have made judgments about how others are running their races. No one may truly know the obstacles, the difficulties in another person’s race of life. We should try to understand that each person faces his own severe trials. We know from research that people differ and vary in the amount of physical pain they can endure. What is a pinprick to one is intense pain to another. So it is with tests and trials. What is a major obstacle for one is merely a challenge to another. To the young lady who has never been very popular, who has never had many boyfriends, the loss of a special young man may be a terrible blow. Another young lady who has had many suitors may not be able to appreciate or understand the difficulty of that experience in the life of another human being. So I pray that we might be compassionate, that we might truly have that understanding of what another person is going through, and not judge him unfairly or swiftly or unkindly.
There are some of us in this race of life at the current time for whom everything is going great. Things are wonderful. Life is easy. At those moments I would hope that we would learn to be grateful, to be humble, to be thankful that the Lord has granted us the smoothness that we may now experience. May we not become overconfident. May we not become smug or complacent. For if we are experiencing that time in our lives, that is the time we may find the resources available to us to reach out and lend a helping hand to others. One of the great things about this race that the Lord indicated for all of us is that it does not have to be run alone. In fact, it may well best be run with others. Others may offer a helping hand, may carry the cross for a way, may lift us up and give us strength and sustenance. If the race is going well for you, perhaps it is your possibility to share your strength at that time wth someone who needs it.
I remember one day going to my office and seeing outside the door of the faculty person next to me (a bishop) a young lady with a distraught look on her face. She waited and kept knocking on this door for some time, but my colleague was out. There was something about her appearance that was compelling to me, and so I said, “I’m sorry. I don’t mean to interrupt, but you look distraught. Is there anything that I can do?”
She said, “I’m waiting for Brother So-and-so. He’s my bishop, and he seems to be out.”
I said, “Is there anything I can do?” So she came into my office, we talked, and I found that this young lady was a cousin of mine, a woman of about 38. When she found that we were kin, the tragic story of her life began to unfold. I began to see the despair and the disappointment and the frustration and the hopelessness that she was experiencing at that point in her life—single, never married, distraught, worried about her future. Later, she undoubtedly received help from her bishop, but I as a kinsman tried to work for a period of months in a helping relationship with her, to talk with her, to sustain her, to counsel her as best I could. She finally decided that it was best that she go back with her family and help take care of her mother, who was an invalid. So she went home and was somehow able to put off her despair, invest herself intently again into the affairs of those things spiritual. Then came the time when I received a telephone call and later an announcement that she had met a young man whose wife had died and left him with five children. I was able to greet her in the temple when she was sealed to her companion and became the instant mother of five children. I have hope that at certain points my strength might have been a help to others. I pray that the strength you may have might be a help to those who are faltering in their race of life.
I quote again from the apostle Paul. He was a person afflicted with a “thorn in the flesh,” (2 Cor. 12:7) who spent his life midst all kinds of persecution true to the vision he had had on the road to Damascus. He wrote this to Timothy, and of this you are all aware. He sounds his own memorial:
“For I am now ready to be offered, and the time of my departure is at hand.
“I have fought a good fight, I have finished my course, I have kept the faith:
“Henceforth there is laid up for me a crown of righteousness, which the Lord, the righteous judge, shall give me at that day: and not to me only, but unto all them also that love his appearing.” (2 Tim. 4:6–8.)
May we be strong and valiant in our race of life. May we be helpful with others. May we be sensitive to ourselves and to others, and may we strive always to pray and ask our Heavenly Father’s guidance and help as we go through our sojourn on this earth, that we might receive the reward that is prepared for us in the kingdoms of our Heavenly Father.