Push or Pull?

“Go, Andy, go! Push it, push it!”

I was at the middle school track championships, cheering for our Valley Point runners as they each rounded the last curve to finish the 4X400 relay. I know from experience how much hearing your name can give you that extra burst of energy at the end of a race.

Next to me a coach from another school was encouraging his runners also.

“Go Jordan, go! Pull it, pull it!”

I have been thinking about that ever since. Push it or pull it? 

My running friends and I used to laugh about a motivational technique for long races that said you should imagine lassoing the person in front of you and pulling yourself past them. It actually works, if for no other reason than occupying your mind when a race gets boring. I remember struggling through the civil war battlefields at the Chickamauga Marathon and getting angry at the bicyclists sailing past me – “Get me some skates and pull me!” I wanted to yell. Is that what the coach meant for his runners?

Pushing implies an outside force, encouraging us, or maybe forcing us. A good coach or teacher or friend can be a huge influence in driving us to be our best. Pulling sounds more like something that comes from inside, like “Pull yourself up by your bootstraps.” It  involves begin drawn toward something, like a finish line, or just the good feeling of doing something we love.

In educational circles, this push/pull dilemma is known as the difference between extrinsic and intrinsic motivation – do children become good readers because they are given a reward each time they read a book (extrinsic) or because they learn to love reading for its own sake (intrinsic)? Do I get out early in the morning to run because I want the perks of a slimmer body and more energy or because I love the feel of the cool morning air and the way my legs feel when I am moving well? 

Am I motivated to help others because I want to look good or because I feel Christ’s love for hurting people?

If we are only motivated by outside forces then we eventually wear out. Young people in sports may excel by trying to please their coach or parent, but unless they have a true love of the game, they will soon come to hate it. The same is true of reading or playing music or being a Christian – we have to have a joy that comes from inside or we will find ourselves just going through the motions.

Paul says in 2 Corinthians 5:14 that Christ’s love “compels” him – that all he does is for the desire to see others reconciled to God, even to the point of others thinking he is “out of his mind.” When we live our lives filled with the Holy Spirit, then we want to do for others out of the love God gives us for them, not from guilt or because we feel we “should” or because others are doing it. This desire comes from within and we can’t not do it!

I have felt pushed and pulled for much of my life. The pressures come from the need to be better at my job, to have a nice house, to be the wife and mother and friend and church member that I feel I should be, to be healthy and not give into getting old, to go, go, go. It’s not all bad, but it’s constant and sometimes exhausting. 

Lately I have been straining to hear God’s voice, urging me towards Him, giving me a sensitivity to the needs and hurts of those around me. I find that as I listen, the way becomes easier. And as I feel the peace that only comes from walking with Him, I want more of it, and that pulls me forward, compelled by His love, instead of being pushed by all the other voices around me.


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