What Will Define You?

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What Will Define You?

Performances on the big stage do not define Olympic athletes. Only Jesus can do that.

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The Olympics. The word itself has so much weight. People become interested in sports like water polo, rhythmic gymnastics and fencing. Americans learn that “track and field” is known as “athletics” to the rest of the world. Countries rally behind their countrymen. 

There are a lot more emotions tied to this Olympics with the delayed anticipation and the lingering uncertainty of COVID.

For the athletes, there is a heightened awareness of the spotlight. There is pride. There is honor. And as they cross that proverbial finish line, they look up at the big blank screen anticipating the results, wondering, “Was I good enough?” 

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AN INCOMPLETE THOUGHT

I’ve always been a competitive athlete. For as long as I can remember, I’ve been running around the oval, jumping into pools and hitting, throwing and dribbling balls. As a female athlete, I always felt like I had to prove myself. Prove that I could compete with the guys and that I wasn’t this helpless, weak human being. 

Even if I had proven myself, I felt like I had to keep proving myself to show people my success wasn’t some sort of fluke.

My sport of choice in college was track and field, and my event was the pole vault. I loved this event and had a lot of success. But even if I broke my own record or qualified for the national meet, the bar inevitably moved up. It graciously gave me three more chances to do it all again. 

But higher. And higher meant better.

I was running a race with no finish line.

In sport, there’s an unspoken reality that no matter how good you do, you can always do better. There are faster times to run, greater distances to throw, higher heights to clear, more catches to catch. 

The instant goals are reached, another one is set. It’s not always stated verbally, but the expectation is always there. Just listen to any post game or race interview. Interviewers are constantly asking about the next race, the next championship, the next Super Bowl, the next Olympics, the next …

I started competing because I loved the event but somewhere along the line my love was infected with expectation and fear. Because of my success in high school, there were big expectations of me in college. I became afraid that if I did not do well, I would let people down. The fear of failing to meet the expectations of others and myself was a constant companion.

Eventually I noticed nestled comfortably in my subconscious was an incomplete thought: 

I will never be good enough.

That thought wasn’t just for athletics. It seeped into every area of my life, including my faith.

AN INCOMPLETE VIEW OF SALVATION

For many people, they believe being good enough is their ticket into heaven. But God doesn’t ask us to be good enough. He requires us to be perfect. We are to keep the commandments—every one—perfectly. Some of His commandments are not too hard to keep for some people. Honor thy mother and father and do not murder (Exodus 20:12,13). Like an opening height or the first few bars, these are easy enough to clear. 

But as the bar rises higher, it gets harder. 

Keep the Sabbath (Exodus 20:8). Who has time to rest an entire day? 

Love your enemy and even pray for him (Matthew 5:44). Seriously? Do you know what he did to me? 

Do not covet anything your neighbor owns (Exodus 20:17). Really? But did you hear about their sponsorship deal?

These bars get harder and harder to clear.

In God’s Kingdom, there are no 2nd or 3rd attempts. Perfection means a 1st attempt clearance every time. Like a false start—it’s one and done.

Romans 3:22-23 (NIV) says, “This righteousness is given through faith in Jesus Christ to all who believe. There is no difference between Jew and Gentile, for all have sinned and fall short of the glory of God” (emphasis mine).

It’s not just me who’s not good enough. No one is.

But there is good news!

I can compete for the sheer joy of it, because it is a gift the Lord has given me. 

THE GOSPEL BRINGS COMPLETION

Some time in college, the gospel intersected my life and completed my subconscious thought: I will never be good enough, but Jesus was.

Jesus is the one who kept every one of God’s commandments perfectly. Romans 3:24 continues, “and all are justified freely by His grace through the redemption that came by Christ Jesus.” Because of His substitutionary death and through my faith in Him, God extends that perfection to me.

I’ve competed at the NCAA championship meet seven times and walked away with five All-American honors, yet my greatest victory was when I truly realized, and accepted, I would never be good enough. That realization brought peace and freedom.

Ephesians 2:8-9 says, “For by grace you have been saved through faith. And this is not your own doing; it is the gift of God, not a result of works, so that no one may boast.”

I can let go of the fear because the expectation has already been met.

I can compete for the sheer joy of it, because it is a gift the Lord has given me. 

Regardless if I qualified for the next meet or if I didn’t clear a single bar, I would always be perfectly loved. That love inspires me to try harder—not because I have to but because I want to. To fully invest the talents the Lord has given me is a way to thank Him for those gifts.

GRACE IN TOKYO

In Tokyo, the results that will be displayed on the big screens will bring joy to some and heartache to others. It’s important to remember, those numbers represent times or distances; they describe that particular performance. They do not define that athlete. Only Jesus can do that.

No matter what the results are, we are loved unconditionally. There is nothing we can do for God to love us any more than He does right now. And there is nothing we can do for Him to love us any less. Before you leave this article, before you go and “perform,” take some time to pause and know that before you do anything, you are deeply loved just for being who you are.

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