Presented on the intercom devotions on Tuesday, August 17 by Ms. Bohnke:
People love stories about underdogs, stories about individuals who started out at the bottom of the heap but worked through their struggles to reach success. We make movies about these underdogs, we cheer for them when they compete in the Olympics – you have probably heard about Joseph Schooling, the man from Singapore who not only won his nation’s first gold medal ever, but did by beating Michael Phelps.
But you might not have heard of Haru Urara. She is a native of Japan. She is also a horse. She ran her first race in 1998. By 2003 she had achieved 80 consecutive losses without any wins. She was the ultimate underdog. Most horses with such a long losing streak are sent off to be slaughtered, but Haru’s owners weren’t willing to do that. They just kept entering her in more races.
The Japanese media picked up her story and ran an article about this amazing loser horse. Japan was in the middle of a large recession, and people who read her story felt an instant connection to her. They could relate to her. They knew what it felt like to fail.
People started coming to horse races just to see Haru run. They cheered her on. They called her the Shining Star of Losers Everywhere. But she kept losing. Soon, her losing streak had stretched from 80 to 100, still with no wins. But Haru didn’t seem to mind. Whenever she was led to the starting gate of a new race, she would pause and even pose as her picture was taken.
For her 106th race, she was ridden by Japan’s best jockey. 13,000 spectators packed into the small race track to watch. If there was ever a time when Haru had the best chance of getting a win, it was now. The gates opened, and the horses took off. As the jockey would later say, Haru gave the race everything she had. She came in 10th place.
She ran seven more times before being retired. Her record stands at 0 wins, 113 loses. Now she munches on grass all day.
This is not your typical underdog story. There’s no momentous upswing at the end – no hard won success – no moment of triumph.
But she did make a difference. Haru received countless letters from spectators telling how much encouragement she had given them. They said that when they saw how she was never weighed down by past losses but instead took delight in each new race, it gave them hope for their own lives. She, a horse, gave people the courage to keep trying.
In Matthew, Jesus tells us to “Be perfect as your heavenly father is perfect.” He wants us to love others as unconditionally as God loves us.
That’s a tall order. People are hard to love. It’s hard to be perfect. If we’re honest, we know that we each already have quite an impressive losing streak. If we’re honest, we know we will likely never reach the goal of showing perfect love to every person, every day. That honesty can be incredibly discouraging – it’s hard to keep trying when the goal feels impossible. And I’m not about to tell you that it is possible if we just try hard enough. What I will tell you is that to overcome discouragement and keep trying, we have to remember who’s watching us. Here’s what I mean:
Haru’s owners kept racing her because they delighted in watching her run. Horses are beautiful when they run, even when they’re not wining the race. God delights in watching us grow to be like him. That’s what we’re called to do. That’s who we’re called to be. People are beautiful when they strive to be like their heavenly father, even if they’re not perfect at it.
But it’s not just God who is watching us. Other people are watching us. And just like Haru’s persistent effort was a true source of encouragement to the people of Japan, our effort is a source of encouragement to those around us. Haru never knew how helpful she was to people (horses can read fan mail), and we may never be aware of how inspiring our effort is to others, but that shouldn’t keep us from trying – again and again, time after time, race after race.
May you find joy in your race. May you know that God is proud. May you be an encouragement to others.