This weekend saw the thrill of the British Olympic trials. The ecstasy and the agony of sport was palpable as athletes saw years of training for one plane ticket decided by centimetres and seconds. The lack of tickets available meant that the Manchester Regional Arena was filled almost exclusively with the Olympic hopefuls’ family members and coaches alongside the cardboard cutouts filling the stands, all trying to get a glimpse of the moment those they train with confirm their trip.
The overriding atmosphere was one of deep respect. Parents who knew their child had to sacrifice any plans for the next 8 weeks in a hope of a possible Olympic trip, training partners who knew the exhausting and relentless commitment to training for this one day, who had walked through injury and frustration, and friends who had witnessed their devoted lifestyle. A support network sat watching on in the plastic bucket seats that were so thoroughly invested that they were able to console and celebrate with those sat next to them even though they’d never met, because fundamentally they got ‘it’.
The harsh reality is that however well an athlete executed their plan, however well they competed, however well they performed to their potential, there was one question on everyone’s lips- are they getting on the plane? The post event interviews were the first of many conversations that took one of two very distinct paths: elation or disappointment. So the question that many athletes will be asking in the coming days is - does this define me?
An event like this only confirms the fragility of elite sport. Any athlete, Olympian or not is never more than a hairs breadth from ultimate disappointment. A Christian athlete can find their identity not in being ‘an Olympian’, or their brand, or their last performance but their position before God given by the Lord Jesus.
Peter reminds his fellow believers of their fundamental identity in 1 Peter 2:9-10.
But you are a chosen people, a royal priesthood, a holy nation, God's special possession, that you may declare the praises of him who called you out of darkness into his wonderful light. Once you were not a people, but now you are the people of God; once you had not received mercy, but now you have received mercy.
In the midst of trying circumstances Peter writes to remind his readers that they are dearly loved and special to God. The remarkable truth especially for the high performer is that identity is not earned. In his mercy God doesn’t give his people what they deserve but he has lavished his grace on them and treats them like royalty. This is the fundamental identity for the Christian and cannot be taken away.
It is when a Christian grasps their fundamental identity that they can respond to both success and disappointment with remarkable maturity and say: ‘Whether or not I’m going to Tokyo does not define me. Instead I can give thanks to God because of what he’s done for me and I can give thanks that he’s called me to compete to the best of my ability knowing that the outcome does not define me.’
This isn’t straightforward and easy but is something that through God’s work it is possible to say for the rightly disappointed or delighted athlete.
Simon works with elite athletes for Christians in Sport helping them in the highs and lows of top level sport. He is also one of the leaders at Town Church Bicester.
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