When The Slowest Comes First

“You take the lead Debra,” said Gil.

“I can’t lead… I’m the slowest runner here! ” We were doing our warm-up walk and about to start our first running set, heading down the path along the Thames.

“That’s why you need to lead us in our speed… we pace ourselves by the slowest in the group.”

Oh no, I thought. I’m the slowest so I lead the pace and everyone else will stick with me? But I will be holding them back. I didn’t want anyone to have to wait for me… but I also felt mighty loved and honoured to know I would not be left behind.

As Gil coached our group in a run, I realized this was a true and beautiful symbol of Sanctuary London and how we love the vulnerable and weak. I wanted to be strong and fast, but in running I was one of the weakest and slowest, and they loved me just how I was.

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Is this why Jesus stopped to talk with and love the woman who touched his robe, even though he was rushing to save the dying girl? So she would not be left alone or left behind in the crowd? And why Jesus asked the disciples into his boat, even though they could not row their way through the high winds and thunder? So they would see that he would never leave them behind in the storm? Is this why he went to the well as the hot sun rose in the afternoon sky? To keep pace with one woman whose shame caused her to hang back and be alone?

Who remembers what it was like to be left behind or get picked last for a team? To be the one who missed the goal, fumbled the play, held back the group? To be laughed at, avoided, excluded, because you’re not good enough?

For the slowest to be first, to be honoured, accompanied, and never left behind… that’s what team means. That’s what friendship and family means.

At the end of every Wednesday night drop-in at Sanctuary, we have a friend who needs extra time to transfer from his chair to standing position, to his walker, to being able to get his coat and boots done up and shuffle out the door. Each week he is the last, and he is the slowest. And we love him. Last night I sat with him while he mustered up the energy to even try. Sometimes it feels a very long time. Imagine if we said to him: ‘you set the pace. The slowest is first. We will go as slow as you. You will never be left behind.”

I am learning to run and it’s hard. I am not in good shape. I feel nervous and a bit embarrassed at being slow. I don’t want anyone to have to wait for me AND I am honoured that my slowness does not stop others from wanting to run with me. And I am honoured to be part of a community that does this for everyone, while loving and learning and becoming better at relationship.

Some of us have no idea how to always be healthy in relationships and community–it’s hard and sometimes we are far behind in the process and we mess it all up, but we wait for each other to catch up… we walk and run together, beside each other. It can be tempting to run ahead. I am thankful I am worth waiting for. That we all are.

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