July 29, 2002

HSLDA Essay Contest: Category I, First Place

The Higher Calling
by Grace Lichlyter

"I'm not running." The young Scottish athlete announced. No one had ever heard of such a thing! The papers ridiculed him. His enemies sneered openly. His friends looked on in open-mouth astonishment. Could he possibly be serious? Yes, Eric Liddell was certainly serious. His Olympic race was on a Sunday, and he was not going to run. What thoughts were scrambling through his head when he made that decision? Disappointment? Regret? Maybe, but these thoughts were short-lived; his standard for honoring God's Sabbath was not to be lowered for a mere gold medal.

Eric Henry Liddell, born on January 16, 1902 in Tientsin, China, was the son of Scottish missionaries. He attended a Christian grade school before finishing his education at Edinburgh University in Scotland with the goal in mind of one day returning to China as a missionary like his parents. Only God had given him a gift. Speed.

Many laughed when they thought of Eric Liddell as a runner. He had received very little training, and his unique running style made most instructors raise their eyebrows and shake their heads. Nevertheless, he was chosen to be on the British 1924 Olympic team and to run in the 100 and 200-meter races.

Months, even years, of hard work and preparation had gone into these races, and despite his critics incessant "tongue-clicking," the odds were highly favorable that Eric Liddell would be the first to win a 100 meters gold medal for Britain since 1886, when the Olympic races were finally uncovered from their ancient dust.

Spring was creeping across the British Isles when the timetable for the races was finally released into the hands of the expectant runner. Liddell's eyes skipped quickly over the other races and fell upon the date for the 100-meter. A Sunday.

After Eric Liddell voiced his decision not to run, the embarrassed officials requested that he run in the 400-meter races instead, and Eric consented. The public was disgusted. Eric Liddell was a short-distance runner! Why, he had not even trained for that event! The probability that the British would bring home a gold metal plummeted.

The July sun still streamed down on the heads of the six finalists on the evening of the 400-meter race. While the nervous audience tried to fan away the sultry heat, the British tried to fan away discouragement. Eric Liddell had placed third in the 200-meter race. Not bad, but he had barely made it through qualifying heats for the 400-meter and even a bronze medal was beginning to seem like a fading dream.

When the gun sounded all six contestants leaped in action, Eric Liddell running in the outside lane. He could not see how his opponents were faring from that lane, but even if he could see them, he wouldn't have looked. His eyes were focused on heaven.

Psalm 121:1-2 says, "I will lift up mine eyes to the hills; from whence cometh my help? My help cometh from the Lord, who made heaven and earth."

Liddell knew where his help came from, and it showed - not just at church or just when he saw his parents, but it shined through his athletic life as well. God came first in his life. Running, Olympics, and even his missionary work, came after God.

In today's society, we have so much going on that God gets push further and further from reality. All of his rules and commands seem to have become irrelevant as our own personal agendas take first seat. We spend our whole life striving for earthly crowns and medal that will one day be destroyed!

Eric Liddell won that race - a full five meters ahead of the second place, setting a new world record. Shortly afterwards, he returned to China as a missionary. He left behind him friends, fame, and fortune, the things the world values most, to gain a crown whose glory could never be diminished.

This is why Eric Liddell is one of my heroes. Not because he was one of the greatest runners ever, but because he sacrificed his greatness to answer to God's higher calling for his life.