I always feel like I work harder during the season I’m watching the Olympics. I think, “If they can make sacrifices so can I.” I increase my exercise regimen. I spend hours writing during the times I would be watching Netflix. I say no to certain foods and maybe cut back on my social life a little bit. I read more intelligent books. On one hand,Olympians make my life look mediocre. On the other, I am inspired to do better. And be better. And better. And better.
These athletes are amazing. Really. They are the point zero, zero, zero one percent of human beings, doing things that very few people will ever do. Yet somehow we’re still disappointed when they wobble on the balance beam, or don’t make the penalty kick, or barely manage to pull off a bronze instead of gold in the swimming pool.
Think about it: When the stellar human being fails to live up to these skyscraper expectations, the reporters don’t say what maybe they should say: “That was amazing. You’re such an incredible specimen of human agility. I could never in my life do what you do. By the way, which Greek god is your parent?” No, no. They say things like, “That performance wasn’t your best, what’s going through your mind right now?” Or, “I can tell by the look on your face that you are less than pleased, what do you think you could have done differently?”
There are no ‘atta boys or ‘atta girls for second place. Our hearts sink slightly when our favorites are not on that very tip-top platform of the podium.
A friend of mine posted a video on Facebook of gymnastics at the Olympics in the 1950s compared the 2000s. The difference was astronomical. Because no matter how amazing an athlete is, the goal is to be better. Better. Better. And Better. There may be a world record for one event, until someone breaks it. That’s the goal. Breaking that record and setting a new one.
As I watch the Olympics, I think about the sacrifices these people have made to be the very best. Thinking of Simone Biles saying she gave up prom and normal kid fun and spent all day at the gym six days a week. Part of me thinks, “No way! Not worth it!” Another part of me thinks, “I’m a failure as a person.”
Because I’ll never win a gold medal and am likely to never even be related to someone who’s won a gold medal. I certainly don’t have any friends who will ever win medals because My friends enjoy weekend vacations and eating bread and cookies and stuff. Just like I do. I’ll likely never be “the best” at anything, really.
Is that okay? Am I okay? Or am I just lazy or distracted or accepting mediocre because “the best” feels too far out of my reach.
And how does this striving to be the best line up with the reality of God’s grace? Is it wrong to strive for better? To be the best we can possibly be when we are loved and accepted as we are? Is it wrong to work hard at something, make sacrifices for something like swimming or track or pole vaulting? I mean, what does God think of all this athletic prowess in these games that were originally designed to create camaraderie between the countries of the world?
There seem to be more athletes who love Jesus this year than usual, and I think their interviews provide an answer. They love the sport, that’s obvious. But they love Jesus and can’t help giving him glory or, at the very least, acknowledging a higher power who gives purpose to what they do.
The Holy Spirit calls us to be the best version of ourselves. That involves character, which involves excellence in whatever we were created to do, whether that’s diving face-first into the sand to save your team from a spiked volleyball or being the most encouraging little league coach possible for your child’s team.
It also involves accepting graciously when our best isn’t “the best,” knowing that God is just as delighted with a 4-year-old who is just learning to swim as he is with David Boudia winning silver in synchronized diving.
“So, whether you eat or drink, or whatever you do, do all to the glory of God.”
1 Corinthians 10:31