Three Lessons to Take Away from the 2014 Winter Olympics
Admittedly, I’m an Olympic nerd. I love the drama, the personal stories, the action and intensity of the individual events, and of course, I love rooting for my home country. Normally I tune in to my favorite events, usually whatever is shown on the major networks in prime-time. But this year was different. So far my 2014 has been wrought with more physical nightmares than 2013 delivered. Both my daughter and I contracted a rarer type of flu, one that sent us both to the hospital, one that had us sick for two weeks, and one that eventually gave me pneumonia (which I still have). So, aptly timed, the Olympics aired while I was on bed rest; quite convenient! Having the opportunity to watch not only my favorite events, but all of the events (yes, I even watched Curling!) afforded some great learning opportunities.
Shut Up and Own It
After an abysmal performance in Speed Skating, an athlete provided an explanation in an on-camera interview, “I don’t know what it was, but I know it wasn’t me!” Um, ok bud, thank you for clearing up the confusion, because I’m pretty sure I just saw you put up a not-so-stellar time, in more than one race. But it’s ok, it’s not you. It’s the ice, the elevation, or the whacky design on your evidently not so aerodynamic skating suit. But it’s not you. Even worse, this was an American athlete. Not a proud USA moment for me but a clear reflection of how most of society thinks—blame someone else and avoid personal ownership, no matter how ignorant.
But as much as I want to get down on the guy, I have to admit, I do the same thing. I get defensive about my performance as a Christian, as a wife, or as a mother and I make excuses for my behavior. It’s just easier to heap the blame on someone or something else than it is to own my mistakes, short-comings, or outright blatant meltdowns of maturity. Seeing that interview was like seeing my own reflection. I wanted to judge the guy, but I saw his excuses within my own heart. Maybe there are reasons, circumstances, or outside influences affecting my behavior, but in the end, what I say and do is my own choice. How I perform (behave) is my choice, how I respond to adversity is my choice, how I react to conflict is my choice. It boils down to an attitude and response that either attracts or repels others. Squashing pride, owning our choices, and humbly admitting our faults will attract the right attention (and people) in our lives. Making excuses, blaming everything and everyone, and refusing to take personal responsibility will only serve to show our immaturity and pride, while simultaneously poisoning the relationships in our lives. So, let’s all do each other a favor the next time our attitudes and behavior fall short; let’s shut up and own it, and move on.
Keep a Golden Perspective
Dozens of athletes compete in each Olympic event, but only three walk away with hardware around their necks. Over the last two weeks of competition I’ve seen every range of reaction to a given outcome. Some athletes were overjoyed beyond comprehension just to get on that Olympic podium, they didn’t care what color they got, while others had no trouble hiding their disdain over the color of the medal around their necks (think USA women’s hockey medal ceremony—you would have thought that silver medal was battery acid). By far the attitudes of gratitude spoke volumes more to me than the whiny, it’s-not-good-enough looks of resentment. But again, I find myself looking in the mirror, seeing the reflection of my own heart.
Truth is (I know, it’ll come as a shock, because we all know I’m perfect…) more often than not I have a spiritual attitude of ingratitude. I compare my circumstances (i.e. what medal I’ve received) and gripe about what the other guy got that I deserved. I studied hard, obeyed a lot, and tithed my paycheck, so why didn’t I get God’s golden favor of physical health and material wealth? But alas, in the real world it simply doesn’t work that way. Christianity is not a vending machine religion, where you dial up a result, put in your coins, and know what you’re going to get. You can do everything “right” and still end up as a widow, a grieving parent, or permanently physically handicapped. Our obedience to God, our choice to follow Him and choose to live from Truth guarantees us nothing (as far as circumstances goes) while we’re walking around on this earth (but it does guarantee a whole heck of a lot in eternity!). No, in this world we will have trouble, but that doesn’t mean we can’t have peace at the same time. That’s the promise of a golden perspective. When we keep our eyes focused on Truth we live and breathe the peace that passes all understanding. That other guy can get the gold medal, we’re fine with the bronze, because we know we’ve been promised much more in a time not too far from now. It’s easy to say but hard to practice, yet maintaining a golden perspective is what will determine how we react to the success of others (as well as our own failures).
Well, What Do You Expect?
Don’t even get me started on this issue of unmet expectations. Well I guess I got myself started. Anyways, I could easily be the poster child for this problem, but watching the Olympics reassured me that I’m not alone in the fight. As I listened to the announcers talk about the athletes I was left with an expectation of who was going to come away with the shut-out victory. I mean, the way some of these athletes were discussed, you would have thought everyone else should have just forfeited and handed them the medal. But then the competition would begin and whatever the announcers just said seemed, well, foolish. In some ways, it was humorous as the announcers would be just as shocked as everyone watching. But hey, the unpredictability of the games is part of the excitement. On one hand you’ve got an athlete who can scarce believe their own performance and the gold medal they’ve unexpectedly received, and on the other hand you’ve got a gold medal “favorite” sitting in 4th, 5th, or even 30th place, wallowing in disappointment and “what-ifs”.
If there’s one thing nearly every conversation about disappointment and despair (“I want to quit!”) has in common, it’s the issue of unmet (and often unrealistic) expectations. Someone didn’t respond to us the way we thought they would (or should), the person we thought was our best friend turned out not to be a friend at all, our financial security was blown out of the water with an unexpected job loss, the happily ever after was cut short by a death…on and on we could go. Like it or not we all have expectations of ourselves and others, and when those expectations aren’t met we get grumpy. There’s a little phrase I learned as a kid, “Give all your expectations to God.” I wish I had paid more attention to it, because it could have saved me a lot of depression, despair, hopelessness, self-loathing, bitterness, resentment, hurt feelings, and lost relationships. Sometimes people won’t treat us the way they should, sometimes we won’t treat others the way we should—it happens. One way to avoid the trap of despair (and self-loathing and self-pity and living life as a victim) is to literally release all our expectations to God. One of my favorite quotes is from Charles Stanley, “Obey God and leave all the consequences to Him.”
We have control only of ourselves, our own choices, and our integrity (that is, whether or not we have integrity). So then, the only thing we can reasonably expect is the unexpected. That doesn’t mean it won’t hurt, it will be easy, or we should stuff our feelings down when things don’t go as planned, it just means we shouldn’t be surprised by it. Whenever we’re struck with feelings of resentment, hurt, despair, feeling like the world is out to get us, etc. it can likely be traced back to an unmet expectation. Like tracing our steps as we search for our lost car keys, we need to trace the pain back to its source and then give that “source” to God. We can try to manipulate others or our circumstances to fit our expectations, but we will never have peace until we relinquish the idea that we have control over anything other than our own free will.
I actually had a longer list than this but I’m tired of typing and you’re probably falling asleep reading. So I’ll end it here. I hope the next time the Olympics rolls around you’ll watch and look for the lessons, because there are many to be found. So, this is Bob Costas bidding you a good night from Sochi…
Alright, it’s just Rebecca, and I bid you a “thanks” for reading, as well as inviting you to share what lessons you may have learned as you watched (or read about) the 2014 Winter Olympics.