The sun was streaming through the branches of the surrounding willows as I took my place at the start-line. My bare feet gripped the gravel, ready to launch forward at the sound of the starter's gun.
With steely determination set on my chin and a dogged competitive spark in my eye - I was ready to race. So were the other eight and nine year old boys, gunning for glory in the Cambridge East Primary School Intermediate Boys Cross Country.
As a young male, there's something inherently hilarious about sprinting off the line in a long distance event. For some reason, everyone of us was already laughing about who was going to be the first around the corner. We knew that this approach would not lead to victory, but we also knew that sprinting off the line would be pure comic genius.
So when the starting signal fired, I bolted off the line, along with everyone else. We pumped our knees and swung our arms, straining to be ahead over the first leg of the journey.
After about forty seconds of sprinting, a sudden realisation hit me. I was ahead. Jeremy - the nerdy kid with glasses who was more renowned for being able to do long division pretty quickly - was in the lead. This feeling of joy was quickly overcome by a second thought - what if someone passed me?â€¨â€¨
So I drove my legs faster, up around the hills of Lake Te Ko Utu. I don't remember much of the course, but I do remember the intense fear I had of losing. I was continually looking back over my shoulder, certain that one of my classmates was about to effortlessly jog past me. I gulped in air, and tried to run faster. My lungs ached, but the fear was bigger than my pain.
Coming into the final stretch, I had tears in my eyes. I was going to lose it. Surely someone would pass me. All this would be for nothing. But suddenly, I crossed the finish line in first place. I wiped the tears from my cheeks, replaced my grimace with a smile and enjoyed the moment. But - looking back on that race - my biggest memory of the event is fear. Pure, unadulterated fear that I would lose my place.
The fear drove me faster and drove me to success - but it did not make me want to run anymore. When I won the race, I didn't really feel that happy. More than anything else, I felt relief.
The Fear Factor
My story is one that is no doubt shared by many. Fear is a common motivator, that can be exploited to drive people to go beyond their normal means. In professional circles, many of us have experienced a manager who delights in creating fear among their subordinates. This fear of failure and public humiliation drives their team to great productivity and results - but does not lead to joy, flourishing or community.
David and Tom Kelley, two business professors from the US, have done fascinating research into the relationship between fear and innovation. They discovered that fear can lead to greater short-term productive goals - but it has a crippling effect on creativity, innovation and long-term work culture. Fearful employees will follow the line, but will not seek new and better ways of doing business - as the repercussions of failure are too great.
Every school seems to have a teacher who thrives on fear, with every student knowing they are one mistake away from feeling the wrath of their sensei upon them. Often these classes are characterised by silence and strict obedience - but not by learning, intrigue and mystery.
Sadly, many churches seem to attract fear-bringing leaders who enjoy the power that fear can create. The faithful flock become driven by fear - fear of failure, fear of exposure, fear of rejection, fear of the world, fear of hell. This fear may motivate them to work hard for the church and to become strictly self-disciplined - but it rarely creates an atmosphere of faith, hope and love.
Fear always drives us away from something - from what it is we afraid of. It may be a fear of coming second, a fear of being exposed or a fear of intimacy. When this is true, we will do all that we can to avoid that which we fear, and our life will be characterised by a driving push away.
A Brave New Call
When we glance at the life of Jesus, we see a life that is profoundly different from the normal. Instead of being driven away, we read of one who is being called on and being driven by a desirable future ahead of him. All of the gospels give a sense of narrative that Jesus has a vocation that he is eagerly desiring and pursuing - and this vocation gives him joy, purpose and courage.
Jesus is called by a jaw-dropping love, that continually beckons him on. This love is pervasive and seems to seep throughout Jesus' life - both in the love that he experiences from God and then the love with which he embraces all who come near. The sick, the sinners and even the dead encounter this love, and encouraged to join in this journey. Ultimately, it is this love that calls Jesus to the cross - a place where fear and love meet - and amidst the pain and uncertainty, Jesus models love that persists even when fear is near.
Although fear may seem to be making us run faster in life - in truth, it paralyses us. Fear stops us from truly living and creates an endless cycle of failure. Love and grace break the mold and call us into a new race where failure is the furtherest thing from our minds.
Augustine once said - in a quote that has been made famous across countless Facebook posts, Tumbler accounts and fridge magnets - ""Thou hast made us for thyself, O Lord, and our heart is restless until it finds its rest in thee." The restless racer is one driven by fear, constantly looking over their shoulder - but the runner of love is a runner of rest, who is called further on by the promise of the kingdom, the joys of love and the hope that awaits.
Jeremy Suisted is a full-time management student, part-time creative consultant (www.creativate.co.nz) and never won another race in his life.
Jeremy Suisted previous articles may be viewed at www.pressserviceinternational.org/jeremy-suisted.html