Running can be a very selfish sport.
While running enjoys a community of runners from all over the world, at its heart it is about one person finishing a race ahead of someone else.
It is for this reason the ending of the women’s race of the 2017 Dallas Marathon was so meaningful.
Like so many others the morning of Sunday, Dec. 10, I stood in the 30-degree temperatures along Young Street in downtown Dallas. The sun was rising over the start line, and it was proving it was going to be a pretty day with warm weather to run 26.2 miles around the City of Dallas. This was my second marathon and fourth time to participate in the weekend series of events in my hometown. Not the slowest of runners, but not the fastest of runners either, my start line assignment was somewhere in the middle of all the runners.
The elite field of female runners began at 7:30 a.m., followed by the elite men and the first wave of recreational runners at 8:10 a.m. The subsequent waves of runners began their treks around the city soon after.
Running in competition with the elite women and men were 13 local high school girls and 13 local high school boys. The high school athletes ran the marathon as a relay in competition with the individual elite competitors.
At mile 24 of the women’s race, Chandler Self, the leader since mile 18, began running with high school senior Ariana Luterman, who was the anchor leg of the high school girls’ relay. Running with each other and roughly 200 meters from the finish line, Self collapsed. In broadcast video that went viral worldwide, viewers can see Luterman help Self to her feet. At a point in the race when legs are spent, resources are depleted, and the finish line is in sight, Self began to run a couple of steps and then collapsed a second time. This continued the entire way until a foot before the finish line, when Luterman clearly moved behind Self to help steady Self as she reached for the finisher’s tape and collapsed at the line.
Medical personnel quickly moved to lift Self and get her into a wheelchair and the medical tent. In the medical tent, she was given fluids and nutrients and 30 minutes later, it was as though nothing happened.
Race officials declared Self the winner though race rules say runners may be disqualified if they receive help from someone else. Self finished two and a half minutes ahead of the second place finisher.
During post-race interviews Luterman, an accomplished athlete herself, told reporters she could not leave Self laying in the middle of the street and run across the finish line. She said she knew she had to help Self.
I think this is a good word picture of women’s ministry.
God designed people – male and female – to live in community. His design was for the community to come from the body of Christ. Specifically, among women, the spiritually mature are to reach out and disciple the women growing in their walk with the Lord (Titus 2:3-5).
We are not to live the Christian life alone. God fashioned us as relational people and modeled this Himself for His followers as He first sought a relationship with us.
In his letter to the church at Philippi, the apostle Paul writes from a prison in Rome. While this small epistle is known Paul’s focus on joy, it is important to note the objects of his joy: Christ; the Philippians; and his disciple, Timothy. Paul is thankful for his relationship with Christ and paints one of the clearest pictures of Christ’s sovereignty as God and His humanity as he writes that Jesus was “found in appearance as a man, He humbled Himself by becoming obedient to the point of death, even death on a cross” (Phil. 2:8). Paul reiterates that regardless of circumstances, he learned he could do “all things through Christ” who strengthened him (Phil. 4:13).
It is immediately following this verse that Paul reminds the Philippians that, “Nevertheless, you have done well to share with me in my affliction” (Phil. 4:14). He then commends them for caring for his needs when others did not (Phil. 4:15-16), and he also wrote that he gave thanks to God for them because of their partnership and participation in the gospel (Phil. 1:1-5).
Paul said the Philippians were also “partakers of grace” (Phil. 1:7). It is evident Paul recognized several things. First, he was not in competition with the Philippians – he needed these brothers and sisters in Christ. They were constantly encouraging one another, but they were discipling each other as well. He prayed for them. They prayed for him. He was concerned about their walk with Christ. They were concerned about his. Their common cause was the gospel of Christ. Second, Paul didn’t view himself as better than the Philippians. He writes they are to have “humility of mind” and “regard one another as more important than” themselves (Phil. 2:3-4). This is the same attitude that was in Christ Jesus. As Paul sought to run his race in life well, he wanted the Philippians to do the same.
Finally, Timothy, Paul’s disciple, is commended for the ways he was an encouragement to Paul. Paul refers to Timothy as his “kindred spirit” and one who would “genuinely be concerned for [the Philippian’s] welfare” (Phil. 2:20). Paul was sending Timothy to the church at Philippi.
Throughout this letter, Paul paints a picture of the body of Christ working together and encouraging one another in their individual growth and walk with the Lord and during times when reminders of God’s goodness and grace were necessary.
This is women’s ministry at its very heart. As sisters in Christ we are to encourage one another as we run our races for Christ Jesus. We are not in competition with each other. Our ultimate finish line is Christ Jesus Himself, and the Lord promises in His Word that everyone who presses on may lay hold of that for which also they were laid hold of by Christ Jesus (Phil. 3:12).
Through his life, Paul encouraged the Philippians to have the attitude that was in him when he wrote, “I press on toward the goal for the prize of the upward call of God in Christ Jesus” (Phil. 3:14). How are you encouraging your fellow sisters in Christ to run for this prize? How are you encouraging others to begin the race? This is what women’s ministry is all about – running together and ensuring that each of us reaches the finish line.
One of the people holding the finish line tape of the women’s race of the Dallas Marathon, was Shalane Flanagan. Flanagan, a four-time Olympian for the USA, an Olympic medalist, and the 2017 winner of the New York City Marathon, cheered for Self as she grasped at the finish line tape on her way to the ground. She was also one of the people that helped lift Self into the wheelchair. When Flanagan crossed the finish line of the 2017 New York City Marathon, she was the first American woman to do so in 40 years and it was Flanagan’s first major marathon victory.
Many hours after the conclusion of the NYC race, Flanagan was at the finish line placing medals on the necks of individuals who were crossing the finish line after running their races for 10 and 11 hours. When Flanagan asked why she did so, she explained, “Just because I crossed the finish line first as a female, their journey was just as important as mine and there is something to be said about the journey in accomplishing a goal.”
May we, as women and sisters in Christ, be found cheering and helping one another to the finish line.