As August arrives, the eyes of the world are going to be on Rio de Janeiro, the site of the XXXI Olympiad. Of course, there has been great anticipation for the games and also great controversy regarding the preparedness of the venues and the city in general. However, once the games begin, I doubt it will put a damper on the excitement of seeing the world’s athletes vying for Olympic gold.
I expect you have some favorite Olympic moments. For many people it is the 1980 “Miracle on Ice” that I don’t even need to describe for you, because you already know. Or, perhaps, it is Jesse Owens’ four gold medals in 1936 in Berlin, when the color of his skin was thought to make him an inferior athlete. Obviously, that wasn’t the case. Or maybe your moment would have to do with Michael Phelps or Nadia Comaneci or the Jamaican Bobsled Team.
Many others, no doubt, fondly remember the “Magnificent Seven,” the women’s gymnastics team that won the first team gold medal for the USA in 1996. They were hailed as heroes and were celebrated in every conceivable fashion for years afterward. I’m guessing you can still picture Kerri Strug vaulting on a severely injured ankle and “sticking” the landing to secure the victory.
The entire team sat down for an interview on this, the 20th anniversary of their epic performance. They reflected on what the win was like, how America responded and how it changed their lives forever. Then, Dominique Dawes, one of the seven, said something that shocked me. She said winning Olympic gold isn’t even in the top 10 moments of her life. What?! It changed her life forever, but it isn’t even near the top of her list. Listening to the interview, it was clear that she wasn’t diminishing her Olympic experience at all. She was elevating the other events that have shaped her life, such as children and other relationships.
Dawes’ statement caused me to reflect on how often a person is marked by a single life experience that shapes who they are and who they become. For some people, it is a positive experience, as with Dominique, but it ends up defining their life and other people see them only through that lens. Certainly there would be advantages, but also many disadvantages as one would get pigeonholed into that mold. Worse yet, a person could come to believe their own identity or real worth is tied to that one experience, rather than the breadth of who they are and what they have to offer.
On the flipside, there are many others who have one life event define them, only it is a negative circumstance, bad choice or tragic incident that has put them on a pathway of persistent pain. It has become an anchor they carry around, longing to be free. Oftentimes, there are constant reminders from people and lasting consequences of the circumstance that went wrong.
Each of these mindsets can be confining and debilitating. To give in to the notion that a life can be defined so narrowly is to miss the expanse of who God created you to be. Many of us would respond that our single greatest life event is putting our trust in Christ, and that may be true, but even then it should lead to the expanse of all it means to be a Christ follower, from disciple to worshiper to witness and on and on. Is there an event, either positive or negative, that overwhelmingly influences how you see yourself or how others see you? I would urge you to hold on to the best of it (if there is anything), and then put it in your rearview mirror and move on. Don’t allow the good to lead you to settling and resting in a past accomplishment as an indicator of present growth. And don’t allow the bad to keep you under its thumb, influencing what you believe is possible for the future.
The scriptures remind us that we serve a God who is making all things new. We’re not stuck and we must not be stagnant. There is a hope and a future God has in store for us. So, as you watch the Olympic games, be reminded that no one moment, however great or small, should ever define a life.
- Pastor Jeff