Tears welled up in my eyes. No, dirt had not jammed into my eye while biking so fast in last weekend’s Chicago Triathlon. Awe-struck humility had instead descended on me like a dove. Who am I to have the opportunity and ability to swim, bike and run 5150 meters (about 32 miles) through stunning downtown Chicago on a sunny summer morning?
After enduring a grueling, but nevertheless exciting, swim in weedy and wavy Lake Michigan with more swimmers than I could ever imagine in one space; the fast and flat bike course was a creamy slice of Chicago cheesecake. I’ve done architectural tours of Chicago and driven on Lake Shore Drive hundreds of times, but nothing quite compares to dodging potholes on LSD with regular car traffic and the lakefront on one side and the rise of city skyscrapers on the other for 14 miles. Then we got the real treat — a gritty bike tour of roads driven only by bus drivers on Intermediate Wacker Drive and the Monroe Avenue busway. You would tear up, too, if you got to ride on roads suspended below Grant Park with spectators cheering you on from the pedestrian walkways above.
The strawberries on the cheesecake came on the final 6.2 mile run, which wound along the Lakefront path toward the Museum Campus and McCormick Place and back to Grant Park again — every inch of the route lined with spectators who were more than happy to encourage you with their hilarious signs (“A Free Beer at the Finish Line” and “Smile if You Peed in the Lake” being my faves.), high fives and cheers from total strangers who shouted your race number, spurring me on when my glutes had totally given up. Then, there was the skyline itself which sparkled with the sun that had just broken out of the clouds — one of my favorite sites in the whole world.
I’m guessing it is the wild, undeserved affirmation — no matter how fast or slow you complete the course — that has made these kinds of endurance athletics so popular in recent years. No one in real life high fives you when you create a good spreadsheet or applauds for you when you hang up the phone handling yet another difficult conversation or makes a sign for you when you endeavor to learn yet another social media platform. But, maybe we should. The truth is that no matter how hard a triathlon or marathon or other sport is … real life is much harder.
I think this is a little glimpse of what Jesus meant when he talked about the “Kin-dom of God.” A place of cheering, grace-filled fans who encourage you whether you run a 7-minute mile or a 14-minute mile or don’t even manage to walk at all. A place where we are all kin simply because we are in one place in a specific time doing really hard, challenging things at our own pace according to our own abilities. A place where seasoned professional athletes generously offer advice to terrified first-time competitors. If the Kin-dom of Heaven ever came on earth, I’m pretty sure it would look something like race day. What a glorious day it would be.