The winner of this year’s Kentucky Derby, Rich Strike, a last-minute qualifier at eighty-to-one, was a long shot. The colt is the focal point of the greatest upset at Churchill Downs in over 100 years. His owner found out that he qualified for the race only thirty seconds before the deadline. His final soaring strides down the home stretch along the inside rail seemed miraculous. Maybe this incredible outcome can inspire some of us, human mammals, to also overcome seemingly insurmountable challenges in our own lives.
Twentieth century spiritualist, Thomas Merton, wrote a famous prayer that states, “…My God, I have no idea where I am going. I do not see the road ahead of me. I cannot know for certain where it will end. Nor do I really know myself; and the fact that I think I am following your will does not mean that I am actually doing so. But I believe that the desire to please you does, in fact, please you. And I hope that I have that desire in all that I am doing. I hope that I will never do anything apart from that desire. And I know that if I do this, you will lead me by the right road though I may know nothing about it. Therefore, I will trust you always, though I may seem to be lost and in the valley of death. I will not fear, for you are ever with me, and you will never leave me to face my perils alone.” Merton, who had a strange and undisciplined upbringing, self-identified as a long shot before God; many Christians identify with how he “ran the race” of life. But the more Merton came to know the Lord, the more he realized that God would take him across the finish line.
Christian Scriptures, primarily through the writings of Saint Paul, use racing as an image for living in the Lord in which crossing the finish line and entering the winner’s circle to receive the laurel crown of victory is a foretelling of reaching heaven. Hebrews 12:1 states: “Let us persevere in running the race…” 1 Corinthians 9:24-26 reads: “…run so as to win…do not run like one who loses sight of the finish line.” Philippians 3:12-14 proclaims: “…I am racing to grasp the prize…I have not yet reached the finish line. I give no thought to what is behind but push on to what lies ahead. My entire attention is on the finish line as I run toward the prize to which God calls me.” 2 Timothy 4: 7 declares: “I have finished the race…and now a merited crown awaits me…” In these words, we are urged to overcome odds so we can share in divine victory. We are cheered on by Saint Paul, Thomas Merton, and other spiritual giants, as we compete, even as a long shot.
We feel that way when our challengers are addictive behaviors involving anything from alcohol or drugs to sex or pornography to anger or prejudices. We know it’s a long shot to overcome our impatience, our desire to control, our longing for power or prestige, our need to be successful or attractive or whatever we hold important. Sometimes it seems like a long shot just to hold our family together during a critical time of hurdles and hinderances. If we but stay the course of trusting God, as Merton prays, we will be okay because even our desire to please God, to run for His greater glory, does in fact please God. In this, we are reminded that there is no lost cause. And even if we are a long shot, we can, as Isaiah once prophesied, “soar as if on eagles’ wings to run and not grow weary…”
Much as the derby winner overcame such great odds, so can we—even when it’s a long shot.