So the Olympics have begun. I think that I am pretty typical in my attitude toward the Olympic Games. Before the fames I am deeply cynical. I mutter about drug use and money wasted and promises not kept. I pontificate, often over breakfast, about the lost purity of amateur sport and I swear that this time around I will not watch the games. Then on about day two while I am flipping through tv channels I come across some young Bulgarian throwing a javelin and twenty minutes later I am an expert on javelin technique and I am cheering for, nay weeping for an underdog Chilean javelin thrower whose mother is dying of cancer and whose dying wish is to see her son win a gold medal. From there I descend to the point where Susan has to come into he living room at 11 pm and tell me to shut it off. I am swept up in the drama of speed walking, of trampoline, of rhythmic gymnastics. A dropped ribbon elicits a groan from the depths of my being.
The athletes at the Rio games have so much riding on the outcome. It is high drama. They are normally 20 something years of age and when interviewed they speak as though this is and always shall be the greatest moment of their lives. After this it will all be down hill, all memories. And so they must ‘medal’ or if that is not possible they must set a personal best. They must not squander the moment.
There is certainly something inspirational in that spirit. I envy that clarity, that sense of purpose that drives the athletes forward. However there is a dark side to that spirit. When failure happens the person is devastated, the moment missed never to return. In contrast I like to think that the Christian spirit is far more forgiving. We too set goals, lofty goals focused on generosity, justice, and right living but when we fail we know that we are still God’s children, we are still held in God’s heart. The olympic spirit seems hard, demanding, and relentless while the Christian spirit is gentle, inviting, and patient. When you are twenty something and want to be the fastest person on the planet I suspect you need a demanding, relentless spirit. But later in life that is too exhausting and one needs a different spirit. You still need goals that make life worth living but you need the assurance that failing to achieve those goals does not spell disaster.
The olympics are a great reminder that goal setting is fantastic. Before you can achieve anything you must set a direction, choose a focus, find your purpose. Our faith is great at offering worthwhile goals and at motivating us to pursue those goals in the long term.
Enjoy the games! Enjoy your faith.