This time last year, the United States prepared for the Summer Olympics by having people participate in the Olympic Torch Relay. My husband fulfilled a childhood dream by becoming one of the runners.
"Run, Luonne! Run!" the crowd cheered, as he dashed down Main Street in Greenville, S.C. He was on a mission. He had promised to reach the last person in the relay, the anchor, before the end of the nightly newscast, as directed by the promoters. The anchor was #196, and he was #195.
It was a short distance, but time was of the essence. He ran like the wind, with people cheering along the way, and he delivered the torch to its final destination minutes before the newscast ended. Members from our church, where my husband serves as pastor, were there. They had braved the cold for hours, and many of them ran alongside him in a show of support.
Not only that, but several other ministers came with their members in tow. Luonne's supporters showed such excitement that strangers joined in. They began cheering and chanting his name, as well. People who didn't even know him came over afterwards to embrace him. The moment was fleeting, but it was great. What a joyous night it was for him and us all.
Yet, in the midst of all the excitement, I felt a kind of sadness. I wondered how many young people there were in the world doing things far more significant than carrying a torch down the street, but who never ever hear anyone rooting for their successes.
My husband was tired, and his legs were cramped from sitting in the bus for hours as he waited to do his run. Yet when he stepped out and heard the people calling his name, he gathered new strength. He had a wife, church members, friends and even strangers cheering him on. Who cheers our children when they are tired or hurt and feel they cannot go on?
How many children come home at the end of a nine-week period with all A's and one B and never hear any praise for the A's, only chastisement for the B? How many daughters or sons perform in Christmas cantatas with no one in the audience to applaud them? How many youth groups get no real support from their churches? How many youth come to church every Sunday with their neighbors because their parents refuse to bring them? How many young people never have anyone tell them that they believe in them or their dreams?
"You're just like your father. You're never going to amount to anything." "You're as bad as your mother. I'm sorry you were born." "Our church has no money for foolishness like that." "I don't like working with children." Is that what our children hear?
Perhaps they are the blessed ones. Perhaps they hear, "I love you!" "I believe in you and all that God has made you to be." "Don't worry, we'll raise the money." "I'm proud of you." "I'll always be there, no matter what."
And if they are really blessed, they might hear, "Run, children, run!"
If we, as parents would do this for our children, then teachers and even strangers might see our great excitement and join in along the highways and byways of our children's lives to also cheer them on. They may even decide to run alongside our children to give support when our young people become weary.
The races that our children run encompass far more distance than a few blocks. Their streets are not always paved and lined with lights. There are few if any fans cheering them on. Their race does not go to the swiftest but to the one who has the tenacity to finish. There is no single winner. When one wins, we all win. The loss comes, however, when even one of the sheepfold is lost. The race they run is called life, and they need us, as adults, to tell them as often as we can to "Run, children, run!"
How can we teach our children to persevere in spite of the lack of support? Isaiah says that those who place their hope in the Lord will have a renewed strength and "will rise up and soar on wings like eagles. They will run and not get weary and will walk and not faint." We must minister to every child with whom we come in contact and teach them to trust in God, who is saying to each of us every day of our lives, "Run, children, run!"
If we cheer them on, then perhaps they'll make it across the finish line.
*Rouse is a free-lance writer, columnist for the South Carolina United Methodist Advocate and member of Disciples United Methodist Church in Greenville, S.C.
By Connie Davis Rouse*