Do you have someone in your life willing to cheer you on and push you to go as far as you possibly can?
On Wednesday, July 1, the 4:30 a.m. alarm went off and I hopped (OK, I rolled and fell) out of bed. The alarm comes early, but there is a special purpose for this day. This morning would allow me to do something that I genuinely love, which is to be a presence of encouragement and help.
Before I go into details about the purpose of this day, let me back up one week. I arrived at the FBI Academy in Quantico, Virginia, to help re-start the class that we had to close due to the pandemic. I was there for two weeks in March and had the honor of working with and encouraging these incredible men and women that were nine weeks into their 18-week training.
When the pandemic began to be a security concern in Virginia, the decision was made to close the school and send everyone home until it could be safe to start again. For more than two months, these warriors waited for the call to come back. Once it came, they were placed in quarantine in individual rooms at the academy. Their meals were brought to their doors and they were given two hours a day — one hour in the morning and one in the afternoon — to go out into the sun. It was a type of solitary confinement, but with better beds and good food.
On Friday, June 26, the quarantine was lifted and the first day of classes began. The schoolhouse started humming with student activities. The protective postures of masks, twice-daily temperature checks and color-coded armbands helped keep the environment safe and secure. As the Chaplain I greeted, waved, welcomed and prayed with many — at a distance. As a safety precaution, I was neither allowed into the classrooms nor to sit with them in the cafeteria to ensure I did not bring anything in with me. Remember: they were in quarantine, I was not. I was the wild card, and that was a description I would live up to because they never knew what to expect from me.
July 1 was the day of their final physical fitness test. If they did not pass this, they would go home.
I met the groups in the gym and prayed over them before they started. I learned earlier that no one can cheer during the PT test. The reason given to me was to allow the testers to hear the number of reps and times for the students’ event, which consisted of sit-ups, a 300-meter sprint, push-ups, a one-and-a-half-mile run and, finally, pull-ups. I told the future agents I would be waving my arms as a silent visual cheer for them as they ran. During the sprint rotations of four, I positioned myself at the rounding of the corner of the track. As they turned, I began to wave my arms. I wanted them to see someone who believed in them and was proud of them. As they prepared for their long run, I planned something different. This time, as they came around the bend as a massive group, I had red and blue pom poms waving in the air. The looks on their faces were priceless. Some shook their heads in disbelief, many smiled and gave a thumbs up and some changed their faces from “Can I do this?” to “I know I can!” I waved the whole time. It did not seem that long to me because I was not the one running. My job was the cheering. Theirs was the hard part: running the race.
Two principles emerge that both the students and all of us need to understand.
First, the race of life is not won by the fastest, but by those who are willing to do whatever it takes to push forward and finish strong. Through blood, sweat, and tears, these future FBI agents train and discipline their bodies and minds. They dedicate their lives to protect and serve us, even during a time where it feels society in general will not protect them but rather make them a target.
Second, we all need someone in our corner cheering us on to finish, to help us put one foot in front of the other, one day in front of another, one mission in front of another. I guess that is why the author of Hebrews painted this vivid picture in Chapter 12 of a great cloud of witnesses cheering us on. Steve Green, in his song “Find Us Faithful,” emphasizes this principle.
“Surrounded by such a cloud of witnesses, let us run the race not only for the prize, but for those that come behind us. Let us leave to those before us a heritage of faithfulness passed on through Godly lives. Oh, may all that come behind us find us faithful.”
Who do you have in your corner cheering you forward in this race of life? That will depend on whether you are willing to cheer others on in theirs, even if you look a little foolish doing it. I can guarantee this: there are no fools in faith, only faithful followers that create a momentum to help others make it to the end and finish strong.
My prize that day was hearing “Thanks, Chap!” hundreds of times. Who will thank you?
Dr. Daniel Middlebrooks is the Senior Chaplain of First Call Church and the CEO/President of Chaplaincy Care, Inc.