A letter to the mourning
A letter to the mourning

Dear Friend,

I can’t imagine how you feel right now. Working so hard for so long to then have your dream, your goal, smashed to pieces.

It has been said that competing in elite sport is like experiencing ten funerals for every one wedding. This pain you feel, feels a bit like death.

Years of training all boiled down to one phone call of rejection.

Hopes dashed in just 10 seconds.

Painful injury leading to ever more painful isolation.

Maybe you’re tempted now to ask questions like:

  • Why have you allowed this to happen to me, God?
  • Is it because of some moral failing in my life?
  • Do you just love other people more than me?

Friend, don’t let your faith become another reason to feel low. Instead, as you grieve, try to find Jesus in the midst of the pain.

He will give you the comfort you long for. He will remind you that his love for you is stronger and will last much longer than your present pain.

He will assure you that he still has good things for you. Ask his help to hold on to this truth.

Because when you are hurting, it is so easy to listen to lies.

You see, it’s a real danger to view God as your ultimate coach. The lie says that if you make good spiritual choices then you will be on God’s winning team and blessed with success. But when success doesn’t happen, the lie says it’s because you have made bad choices and don’t deserve to be on the team, at least not until you can prove yourself spiritual good enough again.

In all of your sporting career you’ve probably been taught to only feel good about yourself when you’re winning, that if you lose, you’re nothing. Your coaches may have told you to use the shame of losing to motivate you to success.

Friend, you need to separate your sense of worth, your identity, from your performance. Equating significance and achievement will always leave your self-esteem at the mercy of the natural ups and downs of being a top-level sportsperson. But only love has the power to make humans feel significant, performance never will.

The good news of the gospel is that in God, you have unconditional love, not based on any of your performance.

You are valued and loved not because of the talents you have or the way you compete. You are valued and love continuously. It isn’t dependent on your success or ability to compete. It is sure and steady and unchanging.

Your worth and value is seen most fully in the love God proved he had for you when he died for you on the cross.

Romans 5:8 tells us:

“God demonstrates his own love for us in this: While we were still sinners, Christ died for us.”

Now, as people reconciled to God there is no condemnation, nothing can separate us from God’s love and we are adopted as God’s children - this is who you are. This is where you identity alone can be found.

And yes it is not deserved, it is given. It smacks against everything you’ve been trained to believe, but wonderfully it is true.

Now, whilst at the moment you grieve, in time you’ll be able to ask some questions. One such question is: “How has this time of real trial drawn me closer to God?”

Sport is a wonderful gift from God and he uses it to draw us deeper into relationship with him. By being a sportsperson you have a never ending list of opportunities to grow in your faith as you experience great joy and also great sadness. God will keep using your sport to make you more like him, including allowing you to experience great trial.

As you compete, and in this case, don’t compete you have a chance to:

  • Remember your identity is based on the cross and not your success and failures
  • Remember the power you have to compete does not come from your own strength but from Christ who is at work in you
  • Remember your standing before God does not change whether you can compete or not, whether you win or lose
  • Remember that right now God is there with you and will use your pain, but that the pain will not have the last word in your life - God will work all things for good

Olympic Chaplain Ashley Null has helpfully said:

“In the Christian life, God’s love takes all his children on journeys they do not wish to go. He makes them travel by roads they do not wish to use. All so that he can bring them to places they never wish to leave. With Jesus, pain, no matter how great - even when of Olympic proportions — never has the last word!”

Friends, come to Jesus now in your grief. He longs for you to come to him.

Solo Deo Gloria

Inspired by “Pastoral Care in the Olympic Village” by Rev. Dr. Ashley Null in Sports Chaplaincy: Trends, Issues and Debates.

This letter is part of a new series for Tokyo 2020 of blogs and articles helping support and give insight into life as an elite athlete at the highest level. Read our most recent article 'Agony and Ecstasy at the Olympic Trials' here.

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