‘Leave it all on the course’
April 2, 2020
I first heard this expression some years ago when my brothers were running triathlons. One brother is an actual Ironman, having completed events comprised of a 2.4-mile swim, 120-mile bike ride, and 26.2-mile marathon.
So when I decided to run a few mini-triathlons just for fun, my brother the Ironman would send me encouraging emails that closed with “Leave it all on the course.” That is, hold nothing back. Don’t finish the race only to discover you had hidden reserves left unused, a little kick that might have gotten you across the finish line faster.
This phrase has been coming back to me in recent years. Entering what is certainly the last half of my life – unless I live into my 100s – there is a growing sense that I want to leave it all on the course: that is, do all that God might ask of me, let these last years be my best years in service of the Lord.
St. Teresa of Calcutta launched her Missionaries of Charity at 40; she’d already lived a full, productive life when she said yes to the most demanding work yet. I think to myself, “There’s still time, God willing, to do some mighty work for the Kingdom.” I don’t wish to advocate spiritual burnout or throwing away energy foolishly – but I do want to spend myself well and without reserve for whatever work God asks of me.
At about this point every year in Lent, I’ve grown a little weary, maybe a little lax on my Lenten resolutions. The world is drab and cold and without color and my Lent might be too. But there’s still time to re-embrace my earlier fervor. No matter what kind of Lent I’ve had to this point, there’s still a chance to finish well.
I once had a wonderful neighbor who recently died at 100 years old. Her children, 10 of them, faithfully took turns living with her so that she might remain in her own home until she was 98. I would occasionally chat with one of her older sons who frequently stayed with her for days at a time in his retirement.
While I watered my flower beds, he would have a smoke and sometimes lament his youth. By his account, he was a wild kid and a bit of a worry to his parents. He clearly regretted that. One day I simply said, “But you’re here now, caring for her, and that’s what matters.” He looked up from his cigarette, smiled at me and said, “You’re all right, kid.”
Even St. Teresa of Avila had her “prayer to redeem lost time.” I pray it often: “Source of all mercy! … While recalling the wasted years that are past, I believe that You, Lord, can in an instant turn this loss to gain. … I firmly believe that You can do all things. Please restore to me the time lost, giving me Your grace, both now and in the future … Amen.”
When I am tempted to imagine that my past – or even my Lent – is unredeemable, I think about my neighbor’s son and about my brother’s encouragement. Whatever kind of Lent – or life – you’ve had to this point, our God is still the source of all mercy and perfect restoration. There’s still time to leave it all on the course, to finish strong. I’ll join you.
Liz Kelly is the author of six books, including “Jesus Approaches: What Contemporary Women Can Learn about Healing, Freedom and Joy from the Women of the New Testament” (Loyola Press, 2017).