“The man with two bags of gold also came. ‘Master,’ he said, ‘you entrusted me with two bags of gold; see, I have gained two more.’
“His master replied, ‘Well done, good and faithful servant! You have been faithful with a few things; I will put you in charge of many things. Come and share your master’s happiness!’
“Then the man who had received one bag of gold came. ‘Master,’ he said, ‘I knew that you are a hard man, harvesting where you have not sown and gathering where you have not scattered seed. So I was afraid and went out and hid your gold in the ground. See, here is what belongs to you.’”—Matthew 25:22-25
This coming Saturday I am participating in my first real triathlon. Yes, I have done the Courage Triathlon a few times, but that’s a modified event, with shorter distances, and the swim is replaced with a kayak portion. A traditional triathlon is swimming, biking, and running, in that order. I have been training in all of those events, and even combined them to get a feel for what I’m up against, but this will be my first real, certifiable, triathlon experience.
The reason I’m just getting around to doing this for the first time at age 46 is simple: out of those three events, I’m only good at one of them. I have been a runner for most of my life, but swimming and biking don’t come naturally to me at all. Some of you know that my brother is the cyclist. He has competed in 100-mile races, mountain bike races on trails, and all sorts of crazy stuff. But cycling is relatively new to me, and I’m not especially fast. And speed isn’t even the real issue. The truth is that I’ve never gotten into biking because I’m intimidated by the mechanical side of it. I hate dealing with gears and brakes and tires and all those things I’ve never been very good at. If I get a flat tire out on the course on Saturday, I don’t know what I’ll do, because normally in that situation I’d just call Randy. The whole thing is uncomfortable and stressful for me, but I’m doing it anyway.
And swimming is even worse. I didn’t make it very far with swimming lessons as a kid, and I was in my mid-20’s before someone explained to me that I could use my legs while swimming and I would go a lot faster and farther. I’ve got that part figured out now, but the breathing aspect of swimming is something I’ve never been able to master. I have great big nostrils and they fill with water when I put my head under, so I’ve been a nose-plugger my whole life. People who aren’t nose-pluggers can’t relate to this problem, and they give you all sorts of well-meaning advice that doesn’t work. So I swim with a nose plug.
Then there’s the whole head-turning thing. Swimmers swim in one direction but turn their head in a completely different direction between strokes to catch their breath. They do this rhythmically, timed with the movements of their arms, so everything works in sync. It’s beautiful to watch, and a complete mystery to me. I’ve never been able to do it. I have had all the advice and coaching from the people who are good at it, and when that didn’t work I had a real-live swimming coach give me private lessons, and I still couldn’t figure it out. I was already in my 40’s at the time, and I guess there’s something to that saying about old dogs and new tricks.
But thankfully there is a solution: I swim with a snorkel. Apparently I’m not the only one who has this problem, because there are swimming snorkels out there that go between your eyes and straight over your head, instead of off to the side, for people who want to swim for exercise, and maybe even go fast, without messing with all the breathing stuff. They make you look like a fool, and at the same time they open up a whole new world for uncoordinated people like me.
So on Saturday, I will be there at the starting line with my nose plug and my snorkel. I’m sure I’ll get a lot of sideways looks from the experienced triathletes, but that’s okay. I’ve done my research, and snorkels aren’t against the rules or anything. After I finish the half-mile swim (probably somewhere near the back of the crowd), I’ll hop on my bike and pray it holds together for 12.5 miles. If it does, the stress will be over, and I’ll just have to run 3.1 miles to the finish, something that’s much more in my comfort zone. I won’t be the first to cross the finish line, and I’m sure the experience will stretch me and humble me. But I’m doing it anyway.
I’m doing it anyway because way back in high school I learned that if you try your best the world will make fun of you, but the world is wrong. Jesus wants you to do your best. If you get good grades, people will call you a nerd. The wise thing to do is to ignore them and get good grades anyway. If you work hard at your job, people will tell you to slow down, because you’re making them look bad. The wise thing to do is to ignore them and work hard anyway. Our world puts tremendous pressure on us to be mediocre. But mediocrity is not from God. God is honored when we do the very best we can, when we stretch ourselves and push ourselves, when we do hard things and try new things and aren’t afraid to fail.
Jesus once told a story about three servants who were entrusted with their master’s wealth while he went away. One was given five talents (a unit of money), one was given two talents, and one of them just one talent. The one who was entrusted with 5 talents invested it wisely, worked hard, and doubled the money. He did well, but he had a lot to work with. The truth is that very few of us are 5-talent people, superstars with all sorts of gifts and abilities. But the story gets interesting when Jesus says that the man who only got 2 talents also doubled his money, and received exactly the same praise from the Master! He didn’t produce as much as the first guy, but the master knew that he had less to work with, and was pleased that he did as much as he could with what he had.
Then Jesus says that the third servant, who only got one talent, didn’t do anything with what was entrusted to him. He buried it in the ground out of fear and laziness, and made excuses about how unfair the Master was. When we aren’t as talented as other people, it’s easy to become bitter and decide to punish the Master by doing nothing with what we have. But when we do that, we are the ones who miss out. God isn’t comparing us to the other servants. He’s just asking us to make the most of what we have.
What’s hard about that, of course, is that we can’t help comparing ourselves to the other servants. There’s no denying the difference between a stack of 10 coins and a stack of 4 or 2. Everyone can see it. The serious triathletes are going to take one look at me and know that I’m not a serious competitor. The trick is to remember that it doesn’t matter what they think. I answer only to the Master, who is pleased when I do my best.
What has God entrusted to you? Maybe it doesn’t seem like very much, but are you doing your best with what you have? Are fear and peer pressure holding you back? Life is short, and looking cool is overrated. Despite what the world tells us, comfort is not the goal of life. This week, pray that God would reveal something He is calling you to that might be out of your comfort zone, but that will cause you to grow, others to be blessed, and Him to be glorified, even if you look a little silly doing it.