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The Quandary of the Gold Medal [aka I Caught Olympic Fever]

August.7.2012

I had the privilege of having two amazing youth pastors while growing up. My first youth pastor, Dan, was an Olympic wrestler. The man was a beast, and would often demonstrate his prowess on the mat by pummeling all 68 pounds of me at random. Sure, he was a undefeated 4 time state champion in high school, an undefeated 4 time NCAA national champion, and a member of the US Olympic Team, but who doesn’t like to laugh as they use the scrawny kid with glasses who loved soccer and basketball to demonstrate horrifying and painful wrestling moves?

One of Dan’s idiosyncrasies was that he always carried a newspaper article of an interview with a wrestler who had won the gold medal. In what should have been an uplifting article about triumph, overcoming adversity, and reaching the highest of heights, the journalist asked the wrestler what was next, and the wrestler didn’t know. Had no clue what was next, nor did he  have any idea who he was outside of the sport. It was a pretty depressing article, actually. That interview wrecked Dan. It challenged him to live for something so much more. Dan worked (and still does) to have his life mean more than any medal, but every 4 years (nice try, “Winter Olympiad”) I am reminded of that article that Dan carried as I watch athletes compete for everything they have trained so hard to attain.

It’s heart-wrenching to watch someone lose, especially the events that are decided by split seconds, but part of me wonders if it may be worse to win. When you lose, a new goal appears: to not lose next time. But when you win, your only goal is to win again. A noble task for sure, but at some point, what more can you achieve? What’s next?

SPOILER ALERT: The situation reminds me of when Inigo Montoya kills the 6-fingered man in Princess Bride. Here is what he says:

Inigo: “Is very strange. I have been in the revenge business so long, now that it is over, I don’t know what to do with the rest of my life.”

Westley: “Have you ever considered piracy? You’d make a wonderful Dread Pirate Roberts.”

I imagine this happens to a lot of athletes – they turn to piracy (that would actually make for a much more interesting article).

They have been in the swimming/trampoline/gymnastics/synchronized-bike-diving for so long that they don’t know what to do with the rest of their life. Look, I have caught Olympic fever that no amount of cowbell can cure, and am surprised at how much of anything I will watch if Team USA is involved, but I can’t help but think about where is identity found?

I have goals in my life, and plenty of people have hailed the importance of goals. But when goals become identity, it becomes a slippery slope to losing who we really are. Whether we work in a church, a non-profit, stay at home with kids, accountant, __________, it doesn’t define who we are or our value.

And I need this reminder constantly. One of my favorite quotes by Oz Guinness that has echoed in my ears during each event, is this:

“We are not primarily called to achieve something, do something, or go somewhere; we are called to Someone.”

I hope my identity, no matter how many goals I fall just short of, or how many successes I achieve, will always be found in the One that saves, that gives hope, that calls me to follow after Him.

What do you think? Do you tend to find your identity in accomplishments or something greater? What have you thought about these Olympics?

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