The Parable of Persevering Emmitt

For the Week of November 4, 2002
by Rubel Shelly

Jesus used to be able to see a spiritual lesson in just about everything going on around him. He saw a man sowing seed in his field; thus the Parable of the Sower. He walked by a body of water and saw a man fishing; the Parable of the Net was a natural. He heard about the treacherous road leading from Jerusalem to Jericho; so the Parable of the Good Samaritan. Got the picture?

There are probably more messages like these in your life or mine than we have the spiritual sensitivity to recognize. But here's one you may have already picked up on from last week's sports section of your newspaper.

Emmitt Smith made NFL history again on October 27, 2002, by becoming the all-time leading rusher in professional football. He broke the late Walter Payton's previous league rushing record of 16,726 yards. It was his 20th time to carry the ball in a game against the Seattle Seahawks. He gained 11 yards when he burst through a hole off left tackle as his daughter held up a sign that read "Run Daddy Run" and 63,853 other fans at Texas Stadium cheered him on.

Pretty impressive, don't you think? In a sport played by people as extolled as Barry Sanders, Jim Brown, and the like? For someone who already has three Super Bowl championship rings? Who will surely be in the NFL Hall of Fame? Who got his own special-edition Wheaties box just two days later?

Okay. Maybe the Wheaties box doesn't belong in the list! But have you thought about the spiritual lesson of his achievement even if you aren't a football fan or couldn't care less about NFL records?

At the end of that historic game, Smith had gained 16,743 yards tramping up and down football fields in his thirteen seasons as a professional athlete. If my math calculations are correct, that's just over 9.5 miles! But people were trying to knock him off his feet every inch of the way. They succeeded, in fact, every 4.3 yards he traveled. Sometimes he gained as much as 15, 37, or 72 yards but sometimes got thrown for a 2- or 10-yard loss. He just kept getting up, taking the ball on another play, and moving toward the goal line 3,929 different times!

There's a lesson in that for all of us. You have goals. There are people who love you who want you to succeed. A lot is at stake for you, your family, or you company. But it's not easy. And you've been knocked down and bruised.

Don't quit. As the Parable of Persevering Emmitt teaches, success at anything most typically comes in tiny increments against resistance over time.