This past week was the Colorado Cross Country State Meet. For those who have never experienced a cross country meet before, allow me to describe the scene.
At the crack of the starting gun, about 175 runners surge off the start line, battling and jockeying for a space near the front of the pack. The course twists and turns, going up and down hills, across dusty roads, and through shallow creeks. Mud, water, and dirt spray up behind the frontrunners, splattering across the bright colors of the singlets behind them. Occasionally, some of the spiked shoes worn to gain traction will find the toes or legs of other runners, mixing blood with the dirt and sweat. For 3.1 miles, this insanity ensues.
On this specific day, the physical environment was intimidating, the competition was incredibly capable, and the stakes of a state championship hovered in the air. However, as most runners know, the greatest enemy on the course is not an opposing runner or the tough terrain. The greatest challenge usually comes with a personal mental battle, attempting to maintain a positive and tough outlook throughout the grueling three miles. In order to assist with this, friends and spectators frantically dash from spot to spot on the course, offering encouragement and cheers as the runners pass by.
As one of the coaches for Regis Jesuit High School’s (Denver, CO) cross country team this season, I took it upon myself to see the runners as many times as possible during the race. I saw it as my duty to help my runners fend off their negative thoughts and creeping fatigue. On this day, due to the large amount of people watching the state race, I had to yell encouragements in order to be heard over the other spectators and coaches. Therefore, it made it all the worse when I tried to shout positive thoughts to one of our runners during the girl’s race, and called her the wrong name. Multiple times.
Try to envision competing for a state championship against some of the best runners in Colorado, needing encouragement and support to get through, but your own coach can’t remember your name. As we greeted the team near the finish line, she was quick to inform me of my error. My guilt was substantial, to say the least.
Now, in my defense, I wasn’t far off. I called her “Libby” when her name is “Lilly.” However, I had coached and trained specifically with the state team of only 18 people for two weeks, so at the time it seemed inexcusable that I didn’t know her name. There have been other, cringe-inducing moments throughout this year, happening in the classroom, within the ASC community, and among faculty. My trusty and loving community members assure me that I am only human, and we’re all bound to make mistakes throughout year one of coaching and teaching. Despite this, the cloud from these incidents hovered over my head.
These skies were finally cleared by a member of the Jesuit community here. Father Paul Sheridan, the former president of Regis Jesuit and SLUH, held mass specifically for the four members of our ASC community after we helped him prepare for a move back to Saint Louis. In his homily, he offered praise for our generosity and willingness to serve during this year, for giving our “two coins,” as the pauper-widow does in the Gospel of Mark. However he also cautioned at “getting in our own way,” and not being able to serve if all we can do is critique the quality of our own gift. Maybe this is what Ignatius meant when speaking of “giving and not counting the cost.” The widow simply gave, and did not shame herself for not having more to give. More importantly, all Jesus could see was the goodness of her gift. If our energy is consumed by analyzing the wrongs and failings in what we do, then we are fundamentally undercutting ourselves and our earnest efforts.
To my family, friends, (especially the other ASC’s), and anyone reading, don’t dwell on the critiques and the failings. Trust that God looks at your daily gift, as says to Himself, “They put in more than all the other contributors to the treasury… they, from their poverty, have contributed all they have.”