I am not sure how much of your summer was taken up watching the Summer Olympic Games in London? I know from time to time I was watching everything from Michael Phelps taking home the most medals ever to Olympic fencing, equestrian events and Gaby Douglas and the fabulous five do unbelievable gymnastic routines. I was also mesmerized by the opening of the olympics which had everything from the history of England, to Harry Potter, to Mary Poppins’ falling from the sky with umbrellas to Paul McCartney singing as well as ever. It has been quite an experience just watching it on television.
What is also interesting are the life stories behind the scenes. They are stories of enormous discipline and sacrifices just to compete for the gold medal in their field. Some like Gaby Douglas were separated from their family as she went to Iowa to train. Others were never told that their grandmother died or that their mother had breast cancer because they didn’t want to upset the concentration of these young athletes on obtaining the goal of victory.
Today the Olympics are big commercially. Companies are fighting to sponsor the Olympics and get their name out there for all of us to see as we watch the Olympics on television. There is big money at stake for the cities that compete to hold the Olympics and the whole thing seems to be very commercialized. It was not always that way. I happen to run across an article on elderly people who had competed in the Olympic games the last time it was held in London. They are mere shadows of their former selves. In fact, some are holding a cane and one is in a wheelchair. Time has a way of taking things away from us that we once took for granted. Few of us can even remember the Olympic games of London that took place in 1948 just after World War II. As I looked at these former gold medal winners, I thought of the hymn “Oh God our help in Ages Past” which has the verse “Time like an ever rolling stream soon bares us all the way.”
The ’48 Summer Olympics in London was the first after a twelve year hiatus caused by World War II. The United States sent 300 athletes by boat to discover a city still devastated by years of bombing. The games were known that year as the “Austerity Games.” Food rationing was still going on. No one had fancy uniforms and most brought their own equipment with them. As I looked at these old men and one old black woman who were winners over 60 years ago, I was moved. The Olympics were one of the greatest moments of their lives. Bill Smith won 2 gold medals with a 400 meter freestyle and the freestyle relay. He said simply that he trained in an irrigation ditch. Harry Marcoplos at 86 was in field hockey. He said “We didn’t win any gold medals, but I guarantee you we improved ourselves.” Finally, Frank Havens, 87, competed in 4 Olympic games. Won the silver medal and a gold medal. He said these profound words, “After it was over, a reporter was there, and they asked what I was thinking about. And I said well, I am thinking about the sacrifice my dad made.” When I read that, it took my breath away. I guess an experience like this makes you reflect upon the scope of your life and those who helped you to get where you are.
Sometimes we think that we have earned everything and we deserve it all. But those of us who are humble enough to see beyond our egos and self-centeredness realize that we are where we are because of the people who have helped us to get there. There are the teachers who inspired us, there are those who have encouraged us in our lives from friends, peers and of course our parents. As I look at my life, many people took time to nurture what looked like a good prospect who could become an able pastor. All I can say is that life is meant to be lived with gratitude and generosity when we pass things on.
Another interesting aspect of the Christian faith is that St. Paul likens the Christian journey to that of the Olympics. He writes in Philippians “I press on to reach the end of the race and receive the heavenly prize for which God, through Christ Jesus, is calling us.” It sounds like language of a coach who could be training an athlete to win at the London Olympics. I know that when I ran the New York City Marathon, I repeated every mile the words from Philippians “I can do all things through Christ who strengthens me.” In the end, we all face what these old timers are facing now which is the end of their lives. Throughout our life, we all face difficulties, obstacles, challenges, losses and sometimes great pain. It is not easy. On the other hand, when times get tough, we need to reach back for the resources that we are given that will allow us to come through these hardships and win the day. It is my prayer that as you look towards September and the busyness and chaos that fall brings, that you will greet it as an opportunity to continue to grow and be enriched by everyone you meet. As the laid-backness of summer is over and the stress of our own “Everyday Olympics” continues may you find the strength, energy and discipline to not grow weary of doing good things in the name of our Lord.