Bible verses, pop culture

Fighting to Finish the Race

The Olympics are in full swing. Though I’m not an avid watcher and am convinced the Olympics are actually horrible for the host country’s economy, it’s hard not to get swept up in all of it.

Who doesn’t like the story of London’s 2012 darling Katie Ledecky who beat out favorite (and world record holder) Rebecca Adlington in the 800m free for the gold and who is now dominating the individual free and broke the 800m world record? Who doesn’t like the continued legacy of Michael Phelps coming out of retirement to avenge his 200m butterfly loss in London 2012 and otherwise gather up the gold (as well as making an awesome face)? Who doesn’t love the story of Simone Biles, a black gymnast in an overwhelmingly white sport who was raised by her grandmother and is a favorite in every category except uneven bars? Who doesn’t love the continued legacy of Kerri Walsh Jennings who was pregnant the last time she won a gold medal with 3-time partner Misty May-Treanor and is now seeking her 4th gold medal in beach volleyball, this time with new partner April Ross?

Can you tell I have a particular love for swimming, gymnastics, and beach volleyball?

But no matter the sport, no matter the politics, no matter the Zika scares, no matter what, I have a particular love of the Olympics because it is the compilation of thousands of stories of perseverance.

In a culture making everything seem like it needs to come naturally, it’s just so refreshing to hear the stories of athletes who work diligently to hone their skills. Sure, there’s something to be said of a natural disposition to a sport. I surely do not have the build for gymnastics or swimming, but if I practiced volleyball as diligently as Kerri Jennings Walsh every day, I could be a lot more talented than I am today!

Sometimes in our daily lives, it can feel like our work means nothing. Does it really matter if I’m rude to my patients? Does it really matter if my technique isn’t the most clean? Does it really matter if I call in sick when I’m not that sick? Does it really matter?

Yes!

Olympic story after story after story tells us the importance of each practice, each race, each match, each sacrifice to get each Olympian to their competition!

And the same is true of our spiritual life.

I don’t know about you, but lately I’m wanting to skip everything. Mass seems longer than usual. The rosary feels like 20 decades. Waking up at 3:30am to pray before my 5am shift is awful. It’s just been rough lately.

I completely understand the sentiment of Hannah who blogged that Being Catholic Sucks. But I also completely understand the sentiments of Tom who retorted that Being Catholic doesn’t suck. It just takes a lot of hard work, a lot of effort, a lot of grace, and a boatload of perseverance.

In essence, the spiritual life is not Usain Bolt in the 100m sprint. It’s Etenesh Diro in steeplechase (a middle distance run with obstacles!) who keeps running despite losing her shoe and by some luck makes it to the next round.

From God we’re all gifted with some natural ability to seek Our Creator. Our ache for God is an endowed gift within each one of us, but yet we have to practice every day and still need a stroke of luck (aka grace).

For those of us (including very much me) struggling with our spiritual life, let’s remember some wise words from apparently athletic St. Paul:

“All this I do for the sake of the gospel, so that I too may have a share in it. Do you not know that the runners in the stadium all run in the race, but only one wins the prize? Run so as to win. Every athlete exercises discipline in every way. They do it to win a perishable crown, but we an imperishable one. Thus I do not run aimlessly; I do not fight as if I were shadowboxing. No, I drive my body and train it, for fear that, after having preached to others, I myself should be disqualified.”

– 1 Corinthians 9:23

And, as featured in today’s readings of the 20th Sunday in Ordinary Time Year C:

“Therefore, since we are surrounded by so great a cloud of witnesses, let us rid ourselves of every burden and sin that clings to us and persevere in running the race that lies before us while keeping our eyes fixed on Jesus, the leader and perfecter of faith. For the sake of the joy that lay before him he endured the cross, despising its shame, and has taken his seat at the right of the throne of God. Consider how he endured such opposition from sinners, in order that you may not grow weary and lose heart. In your struggle against sin you have not yet resisted to the point of shedding blood.”

Hebrews 12:1-4

We must remember that however much we struggle, Jesus struggled more for our sake and our sake only. He’s like a coach (only infinitely better!) because He’s completed the race, He knows the sport, and He’s only guiding us to become the best possible. Sometimes when we struggle, it’s hard to remember that Jesus is on our team!

Then, after we fight toe and nail, losing shoes and whatever else we need to get rid of to die to ourselves, maybe one day we too can say:

“For I am already being poured out like a libation, and the time of my departure is at hand. I have competed well; I have finished the race; I have kept the faith. From now on the crown of righteousness awaits me, which the Lord, the just judge, will award to me on that day, and not only to me, but to all who have longed for his appearance.”

2 Timothy 4:6-8

We may not receive gold, silver, or even bronze medals, but to share in God’s crown of glory sounds pretty great. I don’t even need to win. I don’t have to be the best athlete and daughter and sister and aunt and nurse and and and! I just need to fight every day to become the best version of myself, and God will take care of the rest.

Even if I only qualify for the lowest ring of heaven, I’m sure seeing the Lord in all His glory will bring me pure joy like that of 16-year-old Laurie Hernandez winning the all-around gymnastics with the Final Five:

 

So, I will continue to fight…and splurge on some ice cream while I yell at really fit people to compete better. 🙂

Happy Olympics!

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