Eat. Sleep. Row. Class. Eat. Row. Eat. Repeat.
I’m sure if you’re a college athlete, you can insert your sport, and your schedule falls similarly along this pattern—perhaps with the addition of a nap or two!
As a former rower at the University of Wisconsin, this was my life for four years and I loved it. Though my sport was a huge avenue for my spiritual growth, I also attached much of my identity to the busyness and intensity that comes with being a student-athlete.
My 5:30 alarm each morning was a daily reminder that I got a head start to my day while the rest of campus was sound asleep. I remember strutting confidently into my 9:30 class, spanning the lecture hall, and reassuring myself that no one in the room had accomplished what I had in the previous four hours.
Now, as a retired athlete, I don’t boast in a 5:30 alarm anymore (thankfully) and my body aches significantly less than it used to, but beyond these two gifts from the Lord, there are three areas I’ve had to learn to navigate as I’ve transitioned out of student-athlete life.
Preaching the Gospel to Myself
Since shifting from being an athlete to an intern with AIA, my “do” mentality has been difficult to break. I seek to glorify God with my time and energy, but I struggle when I can’t see the fruit of my actions. “I don’t have anything to offer” and “I am not good enough” are lies I battle when I feel I am not accomplishing enough or I do not see immediate results from my work.
I entered my internship hoping to obtain immediate consistency and stability. This has not been the case, and I’ve found myself frustrated and guilty that my ministry does not look as “productive” as I thought it would by now.
I recently revisited a passage in the Bible that I’ve memorized, but one that I’ve only scratched the surface of living out. Ephesians 2:8-10:
For it is by grace you have been saved, through faith — and this is not from yourselves, it is the gift of God — not by works, so that no one can boast. For we are God’s handiwork, created in Christ Jesus to do good works, which God prepared in advance for us to do.
Through this verse I am reminded there’s nothing I can do to earn God’s love. Though it is difficult, I choose to rest in the truth that I am already God’s masterpiece, and this frees all chains of enslavement to my works-based faith.
My experience as an athlete was not unique. The tension between being proud and confident versus recognizing our gifts as from the Lord is a common struggle for any athlete seeking to glorify God with their sport.
While I navigated the Christian-athlete life, I wish I would have asked myself this question more often: How am I not embracing the freedom I have in Christ right now?
When we live in freedom we create space to attach ourselves to the security of eternal hope, and less to the things we do. We get to wake up with peace that before we even lift our heads from our pillow each morning, we are unconditionally loved, fully accepted, and empowered to do God’s work within our sport, our work, and our relationships.
Pursuing Intentional Relationships
Recognizing my need for the Gospel has led me to see how much I need others to help me move closer to Christ.
A conversation I had sophomore year with an older teammate reminds me of the value of intentional relationships through trust and vulnerability. During a time when I felt stuck in a rut of defeat and discouragement, my emotions led me to believe lies that as a result, paralyzed my performance at practice.
When I shared my struggle my teammate, Anne, she listened, sought to understand, then identified the following truths:
- I could never fully please my coaches or my team.
- I did not need to hide behind physical appearance to cover my imperfections and inadequacies.
I went to sleep that night feeling as though a huge weight had been lifted from my shoulders, all due to the freeing words of encouragement and truth Anne spoke to me. God used her to expose my deep need for His presence in my life. Now, as I pursue community beyond this closed chapter of my life, I’m driven to put in the work that leads to being known and knowing others. The reward of growth and freedom exists beyond the discomfort of exposing my vulnerability within loving friendships.
Lucky for athletes, it’s not too strenuous of a task to befriend the teammates we spend countless hours with each week. While it’s a blessing that we get to do life alongside our teammates, God intends for deeper relationship. In Hebrews 10, we are called to “spur one another on toward love and good deeds, not giving up meeting together, as some are in the habit of doing, but encouraging one another—and all the more as you see the Day approaching”.
I love this passage as it communicates our privilege of guiding our brothers and sisters closer to who God creates them to be. What an honor that He gives us the responsibility of helping one another to live more like Jesus!
Stewarding Your Gifts, Time and Energy
Lastly, the area I’ve struggled in the most is time management. I stink at it because for my entire life, sport and school has been my priority, and everything else - sleep, friends, time reading my Bible, and weekend choices—has circulated around these two cornerstones of my life.
There are mornings that I wake up feeling overwhelmed because I don’t know exactly how my day will unfold. I wish I could say I’ve mastered this after six months of retirement from my sport, but it’s taken a lot patience to be ok with a new routine.
I’ve had to consider my strengths and weaknesses and ask myself: How do I take gifts that I’ve developed in rowing and apply them in my life beyond my sport?
I laugh when I think of how much I idealized life beyond rowing. The end always seemed so far away and unattainable amidst balancing my fluctuating emotions and demanding schedule. Freedom was on the other end of my sport, but it was accessible all along through a deepened dependence on His truth and less on my own self-will.
To all of the future retired athletes, I encourage you to seek contentment exactly where you are, because that is where freedom from a works-based faith lies. In Psalm 46, the Lord says, “Be still and know that I am God.” Such a simple idea but much more difficult to live out when our culture is so concerned with the amount of things you check off your to-do list each day.
When you’re hustling to class or stressing about a workout, I hope you find moments to cling to the unconditional love of Jesus and know that the secure hope you have in eternity will never depend on your status as an athlete.