For as long as I can remember my dad has been a motorsports fan. Growing up, I didn’t get it at all. Driving didn’t interest me. I got my license at seventeen because I didn’t want my younger sister to get hers first. (I might have been a little competitive.) Even before I had my license, my sisters called me “granny.” They joked that the only time I went fast was when I noticed a spider on the accelerator and stomped on it. Our family drove an enormous conversion van, which my mom lovingly referred to as a “hog on ice.” When the day came to take the driving test, our Montana winter provided a beautiful world of packed snow and ice for the occasion. But it wasn’t the ice that got me, it was that crazy pole in the drive-up at the bank after the test. Not the little poles that stand around the teller machines, the big one—the one that supports the roof—the one that removed the driver’s side mirror.
After high school, I started working with a small church 40 miles from my hometown. At the time, the “speed limit” in Montana was “reasonable and prudent.” I miss that… but that’s beside the point. Driving those 40 miles between services, on a road with little traffic, and no set speed limit changed my driving style…until we discovered the hole I’d put in the oil pan by hitting a nice, new frost heave at 80 mph.
Although I didn’t drive during my ten years in Moscow, my driving philosophy changed drastically. One day, I actually heard myself saying, “Just drive on the sidewalk.”
After I’d been back in the States for nearly two years, I finally got my first car. As soon as I saw the car at the dealership, I knew it was the car for me. It was the right color, had low mileage, and was in excellent condition. There was just one problem—it was a stick. The only other time I’d driven a standard had been in a Subaru with a busted seat. In order to reach the clutch, I’d had to pull myself forward and hang onto the steering column with my left hand, while attempting to shift and steer with my right. It was, as they say, an epic failure.
My dad test-drove the car. It handled well, even in 12 inches of snow. After some haggling and God’s intervention, I walked out of the dealership with a knot in the pit of my stomach. I had three weeks to learn how to drive that car before going off to college. It was a long three weeks.
The new NASCAR season had just started when I came home for spring break. Out of desperation, I started paying close attention. I watched intently, hoping for even the tiniest clue that might help improve my pathetic shifting skills. My perspective on motorsports began to change. I realized early on that it wasn’t just a sport. NASCAR drivers took a real-life skill and honed it down to perfection. It was science driven by competition.
Pretty soon I had a favorite driver, then a whole list of favorites. I couldn’t cheer for just one when I knew the stories of perseverance behind the others. I also began to see that racing was packed full of spiritual applications, some of which have made an enormous difference in my approach to life. I was hooked.
My dad and I became NASCAR buddies. The races often take place while we are in church or involved in other ministry, so we record them, don’t let each other look at the Internet, and wait until we can watch them together when everything else is done. Somewhere along the line, my mom joined us. I will never forget how shocked I was to receive a text from her while I was in Kenya in 2010. It read, “Junior won the race!”
This weekend I was reminded again of why racing is my sport of choice.
I had scheduled a special event to be held at my church Saturday morning. I’d invested a good bit of time and money into inviting people from several local churches to offer their input on how churches can better serve single parents. I arrived at the church, got out the sweet rolls I’d bought for the occasion, pulled out all of the materials for the day, and waited. But no one came. I sat in the fellowship hall of our church, I swept the kitchen floor, I straightened our clothing exchange room, and I waited. I pulled out my list of churches and prayed over it, asking the Lord what I should do. Obviously, my approach hadn’t worked. I put the sweet rolls away, cleaned up the materials, locked up the church, and went to the river.
After 2 miles of hiking, my emotions finally settled enough to say once more, “Okay, Lord, what do I do? What is the next step? I really felt this was the direction you were leading, and it completely flopped. Now what?”
God didn’t answer with a new plan. He answered with peace. He still had things under control. I just needed to keep following His lead.
In June, I gave my dad a Father’s Day IOU, promising a night at the local dirt track. We looked over the schedule and chose the one we thought would be the most enjoyable. Saturday was the day.
The sprint cars were running their warm-up laps, dirt filled the air, the engines sang; it was beautiful. Then I heard a horrible sound. I turned and saw a little silver bullet on the front stretch. It sounded like an out-of-sync industrial sewing machine—the kind you can’t use in high-ceilinged apartments for fear of breaking the city’s noise ordinances. The driver pushed the car hard into turn one and went on around the track, but as he reached the backstretch I could still hear that horrid groaning and sputtering. He was in trouble, and the race hadn’t even begun. He came on around the track, went straight through turn one, down over the hill, and into the pits. My heart sank for that driver and team. I knew they were done before they’d even started.
A few minutes later, the little silver car returned to the track just in time to start the race. He drove for all he was worth. He pushed the car and got as much out of it as he could, which wasn’t much. Soon he’d been lapped not once, not twice, but three times. Still he drove on. The race leaders tore up the track around him, while he managed to turn laps and stay out of their way. Of the cars that finished the race, he finished last, but he finished.
Later, as I was thinking back over the day, I couldn’t help remembering him. His day wasn’t that much different than mine had been. All that preparation, all that work into getting ready for the event—and then you’re done before you even get started. But he didn’t quit. He could have stayed in the pits and not come back to race. He could have avoided the humiliation of getting lapped, of being the slow car, of having to stay out of the way rather than setting the pace. But he didn’t. He went out, and he did it anyway.
Ministry (and life) isn’t easy. Sometimes the engine just doesn’t seem to fire right. We plan things and no one comes. We invest in people’s lives and they turn on us. We pour out hours of our lives, and find we were the only ones who cared. But that doesn’t mean we should quit. Sometimes we have to go back and fix things, but the garage is not the goal.
Week after week, I see Christian drivers get in their cars, knowing they probably aren’t going to win, knowing they’ll be lucky to make it to the halfway point. But, they do it anyway. And they don’t complain. They get out of their cars and they thank God for the opportunity to run in the race. They take every opportunity to share Christ, even though they aren’t winning. Do they get discouraged? Sure they do, but they still keep going.
Our walk as Christians should be the same. We aren’t always going to “win”, not the way we usually think of winning anyway. It may appear that everyone around us has rejected us, that no one cares, that we don’t have anyone in our corner pulling for us, but none of that is true. God is still on our side. What we see as our failure, He can turn into success. His strength is made perfect in our weakness.
No one ever said racing was easy. The truth is that whether you’re on a bike, in a car, or on your own two feet—racing is a lot of work…
My shifting skills have improved. In fact, things have gone in the opposite direction. I now feel like an idiot every time I get into an automatic. My left foot and right hand just don’t know what to do with themselves. But I strongly doubt that it’s because of watching NASCAR. It comes with practice and perseverance. Just like our Christian walk. Sometimes we fall flat on our faces, but God has promised to pick us up. We don’t always see the “success” that we think we should see, but what an opportunity! We get to run for Christ!
I still don’t know what the next step is in my little dilemma, but I know God has a plan, and I’m willing to wait and trust Him to work it out. In the meantime, I’m just going to keep turning laps.
What has God been teaching you about perseverance? Please share in the comments! 🙂
ABOUT RACHEL MILLER
I am the author of three books, including the In All Thy Ways Devotional Journals. You can check them all out here. I also run a Christian editing and writing service. Check it out and let me know how I can help you.