From LARRY BUXTON
Author of ‘30 Days with King David on Leadership‘
This autumn, how often do you find yourself asking this question: How will this battle end?
I came across a true story recently that moved me deeply. I kept thinking about it. Finally, I realized that it truly is a parable for our day—a parable I like to call: ‘A Better Way to Win.’
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‘A Better Way to Win’
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Two marathoners were matching each other, stride for stride, mile for mile. For hours they pounded the gray streets in rhythm, each man hoping to be crowned the winner of the first-ever London Marathon.
As the miles went on, one runner would attempt a surge—and fail. Then the other one would try to pull ahead—and fail. Nothing worked. Neither runner could shake the other. How would this battle end?
As the two men pass the 26-mile marker, the commentator is heard saying, “Someone must take the race.”
But which one? They’re down to the last 300 yards, gasping and straining. We hold our breaths.
Suddenly one runner puts a hand out. The other takes it. No words are exchanged. In shared exertion they join hands and cross the finish line together. Dick Beardsley of the U.S and Inge Simonsen of Norway finished as the first co-winners of the 1981 London Marathon.
How automatically we assume that winning must be a zero sum game: If someone wins, someone else has to lose. We assume this is the purpose of competition. But the goal of competition is not necessarily winning, Competition is our straining for excellence in the presence of others. It’s pounding out stamina, chasing down resilience, pursuing strength and gasping for courage.
Beardsley and Simonsen were equally great competitors.
I find the mysterious Spirit here in two moments. The first is Dick’s and Inge’s implicit realization that competition doesn’t require a loser. Everyone’s assumption echoed the announcer’s intoning, “Someone must take the race.” But Spirit—however we define Spirit—reframes this contest in their minds and substitutes a win-win model.
Neither suggests it. Neither one floats the possibility for them to discuss along the route. But somewhere they each see it, a different way to win, and that new image or new possibility begins to inspire their race.
Then comes the mysterious moment. Neither one speaks. They don’t even look at each other. Each man reaches out his hand. At the same time.
In their simultaneous clasping hands, Beardsley and Simonsen each surrender, in a sense. Each one surrenders his hope to stand alone on the winner’s podium. But their shared surrender makes for a shared victory. Theirs was concession and triumph at the same time.
That’s a basic conversion theme for Christians and alcoholics and lots of others of us: Surrender leads to victory. When we surrender ourselves and our individual dreams of glory, we discover a much greater victory: Sobriety. Salvation. Honor. Self-respect. Character. Love.
Our political leaders need to embrace this story. So do we in squabbling marriages, antagonistic organizations, conflicted congregations, argumentative families, and bickering boardrooms. We might watch for that glimpse – listen for that whisper – and welcome a more selfless way to lead.
I hope you see it – or hear it – or reframe it yourself. And then, reach out! Risk an offered hand. In the days ahead – Let the Spirit move within you. Our entire nation needs it, now more than ever.
Yours in faith,