Like all of America (and the world), I’ve had Olympic fever the past two weeks.
A passionate sports fan, I have closely monitored the NBC Olympics website to learn the results of each competition as they occurred in real-time (some may call me a spoiler, but my poor nerves can’t take the suspense!), then faithfully tuned in to the primetime broadcast, staying up until the early hours of the morning each day to enjoy the visual recap of how each contest unfolded.
(I have no idea what I am going to do with myself without competitions to watch each night when the games conclude on Sunday…oh, wait, I know…get back on a regular sleep cycle!).
It’s been an emotional roller coaster as I’ve cheered on Team USA, my heart overflowing with American pride as I watch each athlete give it their all in an effort to represent our great nation well during the world’s greatest athletic competition.
The Olympics bring together everything I love most about sports, and I have been captivated by the countless inspiring stories of determination, perseverance, courage, and obstacles overcome (like double-amputee and South African sprinter Oscar Pistorius); young athletes like Gabby Douglas and Missy Franklin rocketing to stardom after historic, gold-medal performances; seasoned veterans (swimmers Michael Phelps and Ryan Lochte, track stars Sanya Richards-Ross, Allyson Felix, Lolo Jones, and Tyson Gay, tennis stars Serena and Venus Williams, and the beach volleyball duo Misty May-Treanor and Kerri Walsh to name a few) seeking to add to their legacy of Olympic success or chase the medals that have eluded them; and the efforts of our heralded US national teams (including men’s and women’s basketball and women’s soccer) to cement our country’s place at the top of their respective sports.
But as much as I have enjoyed the thrilling competitions to reach the medal stand, what has proved to be the biggest highlight is the number of athletes – from the gymnast Douglas to track athletes Pistorius, Richards-Ross, Felix, and Jones to diver David Boudia to basketball phenoms Kevin Durant and Maya Moore – who have openly praised and given glory to God while on the Olympic stage.
When athletes, coaches or other sports figures (or anyone in the public eye for that matter) are open about their faith, they inevitably face a mixture of praise and criticism.
Critics and cynics chide (and at times even ridicule) them for being too vocal about their faith, accuse them of trying to force their beliefs on others, or, at the other extreme, question the sincerity of their beliefs and dismiss them as a means of seeking publicity. The frenzy that continuously surrounds devoutly religious NFL quarterback Tim Tebow or some of the negative headlines that ensued when Olympic hurdler Jones declared that she plans to remain a virgin until marriage are two of the most recent, high-profile examples of this complex dynamic.
On the other hand, countless others admire these sports figures for their unabashed expression of faith, recognizing them as fellow brothers and sisters in Christ humbly seeking to live out their faith journey day by day, just like everyone else.
[For the record, I applaud Jones for having the courage to speak openly about her convictions regarding such a personal aspect of her life and for her candor as to her reasons for staying pure until marriage and the challenges that come along with this commitment; I also commend Tebow and former NBA player A.C. Green as other sports figures that have notably done the same.
I too have made the commitment to stay pure until marriage as a way of honoring God and my relationship with my future husband, and I always find it encouraging to learn of others (whether I know them personally or not) who have chosen to walk this same path.]
I find it refreshing to see sports figures who recognize the tremendous platform that sports provides to demonstrate their faith and impact the lives of others, and who also understand their ultimate goal is to utilize the athletic talents that God has given them to bring glory to Him.
And so, as I have watched these Olympians and been moved by how they have used their respective platforms to bring honor to God, I couldn’t help but reflect on my own life.
Lord, what is my platform, and am I making the most of it for Your glory?
How can I better use the skills and talents You have given me?
As I ponder this, I am reminded of the words that a friend of mine who leads a devotional service I frequently attend speaks in closing after each gathering:
May the Lord bless you,
May the Lord keep you,
May His grace shine upon you,
And may He use you in the places He sends you.
I believe God provides each of us with our uniquely-designed platform in the places He sends us – time spent with family and friends, our neighborhoods and homes, church, job, the civic and community organizations in which we are involved, and even our leisure activities and hobbies.
So,while I may not be an elite athlete with the platform of the Olympic stage (although two weeks of watching the fittest people in the world compete has motivated me even more to get in shape, so don’t be surprised if you see me hittin’ it hard in the gym with my Team USA gear on!), I am determined to maximize the platform that He has provided just for me in order to make a difference in the lives of others and honor Him.
How will you use your platform for His glory?