“Therefore encourage one another and build each other up . . .” – 1 Thessalonians 5:11
As we near the end of a long race, aching legs, burning throat, our bodies crying out for us to stop, this is when friends and fans are most valuable. It is their encouragement that helps us push through the pain to the finish line. A word of encouragement at just the right moment often means the difference between finishing well and collapsing along the way.
Such an instance happened to me once, except I had already crossed the finish line before collapsing face down in the dirt – sobbing. At the age of fourteen I had spent several weeks attending a sports camp where I had worked hard getting myself in top physical condition and honing my athletic skills before entering the first year of high school. But just before the closing events of camp my dad was injured in a freak accident at work and because he was laid up my parents were unable to attend. I was heartbroken, wanting so badly for them to be there and see all I had accomplished that summer. At the final track meet I was competing in a 440-yard race, and their absence made me more determined than ever to win, even though I really wasn’t very fast.
As soon as the starting gun cracked, I popped out of the blocks with all the strength I could muster. My main competitor and I immediately took the lead, shoulder to shoulder the entire way around the track, that is until he managed to overtake me by half a stride just at the finish line where I collapsed into the dirt, crushed from exhaustion and defeat. Suddenly a man appeared from the crowd, a family friend, and lifted my sweaty, filthy, tearful body off the ground. Wrapping his arms around me, he comforted me with these encouraging words, “I watched you run that race. I never saw anyone with such desire to win. You’re a competitor. You’re SOMEBODY! Don’t ever forget that.” And I never have – ever! It was just the word of encouragement I needed, at just the right moment.
Many years passed, then one day I realized I should write that gentleman to express how much that moment had meant to me. A few days later he called to thank me for my kind letter. Not long afterwards he passed away. But I’ve always hoped my letter might have encouraged him as he approached his own finish line, just he had encouraged me; for should we not “Therefore encourage one another and build each other up . . .”?