Faith in Sports: The Cross and Cross Country
“Do you not know that the runners in the stadium all race, but only one receives the prize?
Run in such a way that you may win.
Now everyone who competes exercises self-control in everything.
However, they do it to receive a perishable crown, but we an imperishable one.”
1 Corinthians 9:24-25.
As a Christian institution, Greenville athletic teams are challenged with the task of incorporating faith into sports. But what does that really mean? Is incorporating faith into sports as simple as praying before competitions, or conducting sportsmanship that is noticeably admirable? The sad truth is that many Christian athletes leave faith at the front door when they enter an athletic arena. Faith in sports can easily be consumed by competitive nature in the pursuit of victory. However, some teams at Greenville College are looking beyond the perishable victor’s crown, and gazing upon the eternal crown of heaven. One of these teams is the Men’s and Women’s cross country team.
In the sport of Cross Country there is ultimately one winner of each race, which plays perfectly into the metaphor described in 1 Corinthians 9:24-5. Each runner pushes themself to their full potential to capture the winning prize. Winning isn’t a bad thing, and the verses above clearly indicate that as athletes, we should push towards victory. However, Christians are called to look beyond the tangible prize, and at the grand scheme of things. In competition it’s very easy to quote the words of the infamous stretchy-pants-wearing-luchador, Nacho Libre, and say “I wanna win!” but earthly prizes should never be idolized.
Junior cross country runner Ben Barber explained to me that in cross country he runs to win, but ultimately his purpose is beyond winning, and is about honoring God. Barber went on to say, “I also want to treat my faith like my running and train hard even when I don’t want to, striving towards the prize that God has for me.” Ben Barber clearly indicated that cross country correlates perfectly with the race of life. In life we’re all aspiring to reach our full potential, and follow the path that God has paved for us. However, along the way we’ll inevitably experience road blocks like fatigue. In those challenging moments of life and cross country, Barber uses God’s awaiting gift as motivation to strive to be the best he can as a man and a runner. That is how you put faith into running.
As believers we’re not alone in our race towards God. We have multiple brothers and sisters in Christ that encourage us, and inspire us to reach new levels of greatness. The same is true in cross country. As a team, Greenville Cross Country sharpens one another through weekly Bible studies that help keep God in the center of the sport. The women’s team meets once a week for Bible study, and then both the men and women gather together one time later in the week to study God’s Word. Barber also commented that the Bible studies and spiritual leadership of Coach Patton are central to the team’s identity.
The team’s identity is also very diverse which is beautiful in the way that many people fuse together different perspectives of how to honor God in racing. Sophomore Runner, Molly Works explained her perspective on the subject that faith is needed in running, and recognizing that our individual abilities come from God is also very important. Another member of the Women’s team, Taylor Thomas stated that it is personally important to include faith along with running because “if you’re not in check spiritually you’ll lose balance in other areas of life.” Thomas’s response reminds us perfectly that many athletes lose sight of their priorities and put human prizes above God’s great prize.
No matter what sport is being played, athletics can easily be symbolic of our lives for God. In any contest we’re competing in, whether sport or the race of life, the pursuit of victory makes us overcome obstacles and defeat the discomfort of intense training. Next time you endure great adversity in a sport, job, or class, remember that every test we experience in life can be a reminder of our spiritual race, and the prize that awaits us.