Have you ever felt really conspicuous — like everyone around you could tell that you didn’t quite belong?
My wife, Janice, and I encountered these feelings on a trip to Chicago this past weekend. I was there to run the Chicago Marathon, but we took a couple extra days to experience the sights and sounds of the metropolis. We soon found ourselves overwhelmed by the pace and excitement of one of our nation’s great cities. It was a lot for a pair of rural Midwesterners to absorb.
While we didn’t wear name tags containing the word “tourist,” they likely were not needed. Whether I was struggling to operate the subway turnstile, craning my neck to gaze at the skyscrapers, or pulling out the camera at every corner, there was little chance of us being mistaken for lifelong urbanites.
That all changed the morning of the race. Chicago marked marathon #25, so from the moment I stepped onto the staging area, I was right in my element. As the horn sounded, over 40,000 of us joined in racing the very same streets that seemed so foreign only hours before. But now, everything felt natural. Start slow. Get into rhythm. Set up for the corners. Merge to the side for the water stations.
The runners, total strangers only a day before, soon became like old friends. Meanwhile, Janice joined the throngs that lined the streets —streets that had transformed into a stunning array of flags and signs from around the world.
Well over 110 countries were represented; it was a potpourri of languages and cultures. Yet our love for running united us in a common cause: Reach the finish line, and enjoy the journey every step of the way.
As this marvelous event unfolded, however, I was struck by how these moments contrasted with the days before. My mind drifted to 1 Peter 2:11, a stark reminder of our place in this world as followers of Christ. We’re strangers, aliens. We walk these streets the entire course of our earthly lives, yet our citizenship is in heaven (Philippians 3:20).
Then I began to examine my own life. Do I really feel like a stranger in this world. Is it obvious to a casual observer that I’m just passing through, that my purpose for being here is only temporary?
To be honest, Janice and I were pleasantly surprised by Chicago. It was much friendlier than we expected, with so much to do. There was a lot to like about it. We’re still talking about how we’d like to spend some more time there. But it isn’t home.
God has placed His people in this world for a critical purpose. There’s a race to be run. Challenges to be confronted. Victories to be secured. But we must not be taken in by the world’s appeal. We’re strangers, just passing through. The things we do, the values we embrace, might seem a little awkward to those who call this world home. We will stand out. And when we do, we open incredible doors of opportunity to invite others to join the race.
At the end of his life, the apostle Paul punctuated his final chapter with a goal worthy of all God’s people: “I have fought the good fight, I have finished the race, I have kept the faith. Now there is in store for me the crown of righteousness, which the Lord … will award to me on that day” (2 Timothy 4:7). Paul had fixed his eyes on something far greater than this world. Once this race was run, he would enjoy a heavenly home. May we, too, live as those whose citizenship is not of this world.