Last fall sometime, I declared our family’s Bible passage to be Hebrews 12:1-3 for the school year. I chose it mostly for our oldest son, who in fourth grade, was continuing to struggle to find motivation. In my eyes, he lacked motivation in school and in interests, and I was growing weary trying to understand his “laziness,” in a sense.
Every time he has shown an interest in something – sharks, football, super cars, bike riding – my husband and I dive in, and we buy books on the topic, and we watch videos on the topic, and we talk about the topic to keep engaging him. But we know, in time, it will pass. And this may all be specific phases he lives through, but as his mother, I long for something to set a fire in his little heart and to see him pursue something he loves.
Earlier this spring, before the COVID-19 pandemic spread across our nation, we made a small motivational poster for him. It listed his goals at school (higher grades in reading/writing, better handwriting, engagement with his teacher), how we would know he is working toward those goals (teacher check-in, progress reports, report cards), and some “prizes” he could earn (lunch date with mom, model car to build, afternoon out with dad).
At the top I wrote, “Run with perseverance, and never give up. Eyes on Jesus!”
And that is how we have approached this passage from Hebrews for him and for our family.
“Therefore, since we are surrounded by so great a cloud of witnesses …” – You, child, are surrounded by family members who love Jesus and love YOU, by a community that is ready to support you, by teachers who care about how you are doing and how you are feeling.
“… let us run with perseverance the race that is set before us …” – Your race belongs to you. Your race is making it though 4th grade writing, your race is finding all the good things God created in you.
“… fixing our eyes on Jesus, the founder and perfecter of our faith, … so you may not grow weary or fainthearted.” Eyes on Jesus, son, and you will not grow weary, and you will not lose heart. You will fall, you will stumble, you will trudge through valleys, but look up!
This spring, I heard the Most Rev. Michael B. Curry, Presiding Bishop of the Episcopal Church, on a podcast I listen to frequently. He spoke of focusing on this same passage from Hebrews and asking himself, “What does it mean to live a life looking at Jesus?”
Bishop Curry said this line has been beckoning him, and he provided an image from an old movie he used to watch with is grandmother around Easter time, “The Robe,” about a fictional Roman soldier who became a Christian after participating in Jesus’ execution. At the end of the movie, there is a scene where this Roman soldier and his wife walk off to their deaths for betraying Caesar by not wanting to participate anymore in what was wrong.
Bishop Curry said, “I wonder if looking to Jesus looks like being willing to follow Him, His way of love, no matter what the cost. I don’t know that I do that, but I want to.”
That has set my heart on fire lately because I want that, too. And I want that even more so for our three sons. I want them to find their motivation in life to pursue dreams, to stand up for the oppressed, to take care of their neighbors, and to be a light to all of those whom they encounter. To run their race set before them and to not grow weary in advocating for love.
I, for one, have always stood behind my beliefs quietly. And I know we need all sorts to spread love around this community, around this nation, and around this world. But I want to deliver the message to each and every child that you, too, are surrounded by people that care, that love, that support you.
In another recent sermon by Bishop Curry, he quoted the second verse of the hymn, “There is a Balm in Gilead:”
“If you cannot preach like Peter,
if you cannot pray like Paul,
you can tell the love of Jesus
and say, “He died for all.”
I know our family can do this, and I know this a beautiful place to start. At home, down the street, across town, and paved deeply into our paths. We can run with perseverance, we can keep our eyes on Jesus, and we can tell of his love for each person around us. We can encourage and build up and strengthen the actions of others that stand for love. With humility and prayer, we can fix our eyes on Jesus and look to Him to strive to be such a follower of the God of love.