The Olympics have been on a lot at our house. They always are. The other night we watched the women’s 100 meter hurdle event where Des Moines native Lolo Jones was competing. Jones finished fourth, just out of the medals. There was a big bru-ha-ha over a scathing article written in the New York Times questioning her competitive desire or her abilities or something. I didn’t take the time to read the article. But Jones responded with some remarks on NBC and it is one of those comments that I want to use as an excellent example for the everyday Christian.
Lolo stated that she has trained six days a week for four years for a 12 second race.
Let that sink in a bit while I provide a bit of context. Jones is the American record holder in this event; i.e., she is the fastest American to ever run this race. She was a sure bet for gold in this event at the Bejing Games in 2008. Indeed, she was leading the race by a full stride when she struck the second to the last hurdle and wound up finishing out of the medals. I can only imagine the heartbreak. She must have relived that race over and over in her mind countless times since then. Perhaps this was one of the things that drove her in preparation for the 2012 Games.
Now, back to her remarks. She trained six days a week for four years for a 12 second race. We tend to think of such an athlete only in terms of what they accomplished in their quest for gold. But what do you think it was like for Lolo the first day she trained after the 2008 Games? What about day 100? Day 752? Day 1147? Each of these days she ate only what her body needed to achieve her goal. Each day she showed up at the gym or the track and put in the time, put in the sweat, dealt with the pain, pushed back against the desire to quit or take it easy. A relentless, unshakeable quest for one thing: London gold. An Olympic athlete runs on a worldwide stage and receives gold if they come out on top. But the race is not won there. It is won on day 57 doing bounding drills. It is won in the gym doing power cleans on day 499. It is won by hurdle drills on day 603. It is won by painful stretching on day 835. It is won on day 1001 by saying no to the ice cream and yes to the broccoli. Again. The race plays out on a worldwide stage but it is won in the day-to-day struggle of pressing on to the goal.
1 Corinthians 9:24-25: Do you not know that those who run in a race all run, but only one receives the prize? Run in such a way that you may win. Everyone who competes in the games exercises self-control in all things. They then do it to receive a perishable wreath, but we an imperishable.
In these comments, the apostle Paul uses the ancient Olympic Games as a picture of the Christian life. If a natural athlete will sacrifice so much for an earthly medal, how much more should a Christian, with an eternal reward before him, be willing to endure daily sacrifice? Lolo ran for a gold medal and, unfortunately, came up short. But she is in another race as well, one where we join her as teammates. From all that I have read, she is a strong believer in Christ. She, and we, are running for an eternal reward. Are we running in such a way that we may win? Are we winning the day-to-day struggle of self-denial for a greater cause? Are we focused on the reward at the end of the race?
I bet if we could speak to her, Lolo would honestly tell us that on day 129 she chose the ice cream over the broccoli. On day 895 she skipped her last set of weights in the gym as her motivation waned. In other words, her day-to-day performance wasn’t flawless. Yet, the next day she was back at it. How many times have we stumbled and fallen? When we fall, let us do the spiritual equivalent of jumping back to our feet and rejoining in the race. Confess our sins, accept the forgiveness Christ freely offers, and move on. “Do not rejoice over me, O my enemy. Though I fall, I will rise; though I dwell in darkness, the Lord is a light for me,” Micah 7:8. Let’s get back in the race. Let’s focus on our reward which is more sure than fleeting Olympic gold. On that day, Lolo will not be disappointed. And neither will we.