Leaving the Competition on the Track, Treadmill, or Trail

So I just started doing this fitness competition with people at work. It is kind of like a fantasy football league, where you get matched up with one other person each week, and you get points for each workout you do throughout the week. At the end of the season, each person is seeded based on their win-loss record, and the top half in our case enter a “playoff.” It’s a pretty diverse group, some serious runners, some gym-rats, and some people who’s only work out this month has been shoveling snow (although this February in Minnesota, that should be worth some pretty hefty points).

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Let me just start off by saying: I AM SO EXCITED FOR THIS. Probably too excited. The most interesting things as this contest starts is the difference of motivators for all the people in this group. I have found myself in conversations with one of the other women and found that, although we are both committed runners, our motivations vary immensely. As I was ranting about how much this was going to motivate me to get out of bed, get to the gym (because there’s still multiple feet of snow on the ground) get my miles in and maybe even some extra strength training each day, she laughed at me. She agreed to take part, but made it pretty clear it wasn’t going to change her workout schedule that much, if at all.

“I recognize you are not going to understand this at all, but competing against someone, even if there is a free drink up for grabs, is not going to make me want to do more. I’m going to continue to do what I do, run every day, and I’ll enter it, but I do that for so many reasons, and none of them will be to beat someone else.”

I am so known by this friend of mine. Because she was right, I didn’t understand it at all. She’s a serious runner, works so hard, and is way more committed than I am. If that wasn’t driven by competition, what was it driven by? I couldn’t understand it, because I am wired so so differently.

Competition, for better or for worse, drives almost everything I do. That isn’t always competition with other people, more often than not it is competition with myself. How can I do better? Be better? Run faster? Be smarter? Get better grades? Be more successful at work? Love people better? Be holier or pray better….

And that, sisters, is where I run off the competition cliff, and more often than not hit rock bottom before I can catch myself, or allow myself to be caught by our loving Father. Because you know what word becomes synonymous with competition? Comparison. Not to mention their too-close-for-comfort relative: Perfectionism.

Competition is not all bad. If it gets me from hitting snooze [three times] and getting to the gym, that’s great. But when I start dictating the terms of my own prayer life, and even of my own salvation (who do I think I am, really?) and deciding I am not doing enough, not being enough, not good enough for God, that’s a problem.

It’s Tuesday. Not just Tuesday, Shrove Tuesday. Lent starts tomorrow. Until two hours ago I had no idea what I was going to do. Fast after fast is running through my head. Coffee. Chocolate. Alcohol. Meat. Makeup. Hitting snooze. Pillow. Cold showers. Social media. The list, as I am sure you know, could go on and on.

I hear what my friends are doing, and I instantly compare. “If I don’t fast as much as her, there’s no way I’ll be holy enough.” “He’s going to Mass every day of the week? Wow, I have to do that.” “She’s praying all five hours of the Divine Office every day? What am I doing with my life?” -All direct quotes from my brain. Monday night.

Then I stopped in my tracks. Or more accurately, was frozen by the Holy Spirit.

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Saint Therese of Lisieux is my adopted patron Saint for 2019. I wish I could say I just picked her, but she made sure that was going to be the way it was. We have always had a trying friendship, to say the least, but, now I can confidently say that she is my Saint BFF. I just finished my second book of the year about her life, and I was drawn back last night to the second chapter of that book.

Living in the Lisieux Carmel, Therese was overrun by the expectation that she perform great works of asceticism, because, according to the historian Andre Combes, in his study of the archives of the Lisieux Carmel, “the fidelity of the nun to her calling was judged according to the intensity of her spiritual and bodily mortifications.” (Andre Combes, St. Therese and her Mission)

After much prayer, and trying some of these mortifications herself, God revealed very clearly to Therese that this was not the way of holiness He desired for her, and out of this, came an entirely new, or rather a rebirth of a spirituality which Therese, and later the Church, embraced and coined as “The Little Way.”

Now, disclaimer: I am NOT using St. Therese as an excuse not to fast during Lent this year, and I love and admire the intensity with which so many of my friends will be fasting and praying. I will be fasting. I will be upping my prayer game. I will be entering into this season of penance for the Church and for my own soul, which ends in the reflection of Jesus’ Passion and the celebration of His resurrection. But now I am excited to. Because it’s not a competition, with anyone else or with myself. It’s not something that, in forty days, will entirely transform me from sinner to saint. That takes a lifetime, and it takes remaining little before my Heavenly Father, not committing to a thousand fasts and setting myself up for failure in an attempt to prove my holiness. There is nothing I can do to earn what Jesus already offers. No matter how much “better” I think I can fast or pray.

I’m going to try to leave the competition on the track. I am going to let the Holy Spirit lead me this Lent. I am going to stop trying to prove myself, prove my holiness, to myself, to God, and to anyone else who happens to be around that day. I am going to try each day to do the things the Lord is asking me to do, faithfully. I am going to remain little, and recognize that God’s mercy can only pick me up if I am lifting my hands and trying to take the first step up that ladder, while I wait for Him to pick me up.

“Be like a child...practice all the virtues and so always lift up your little foot to mount the ladder of holiness, but do not imagine that you will be able to ascend even the first step. No! The good Lord does not demand more of you than your good will. From the top of the stairs, he looks at you with love. Very soon, won over by your useless efforts, he will carry you up.”

Saint Therese of Lisieux

But let’s be honest, you can’t just kill that competitive spirit. I am going to do everything I can to kick butt in that workout league. :)

Brianna St. Amour is a Middle School Youth Minister just outside St. Paul, MN. She is a Minnesota transplant from Northern Vermont who misses hiking in the Green Mountains but has traded it for exploring the Twin Cities (when its not too cold to breath!) She loves New England Sports, Golf, running, biking, and telling people about what Jesus has done in her life. Coffee, Mass, sunshine, baseball, friends and wine are ingredients for the perfect day.