Photo credit: npr.org
Blog By Kate Ritchie
The Olympics are a big deal in our house. Like many other families, we gather each evening to watch the primetime events and cheer for Team USA. Because of my personal background, my family gets the most excited for Women’s Gymnastics. I spent nineteen years of my life in world of competitive gymnastics as both a competitor and a coach. Every four years, the boys drag out my old medals and pictures, and we talk about the different athletes competing in gymnastics.
The name on everyone’s lips this Olympic Games is Simone Biles. The greatest gymnast of all time shocked the world by withdrawing herself from the competition to protect her mental and physical health. Critics are always out there, but the majority of the world, myself included, has applauded Simone for taking steps to reform gymnastics, a sport plagued with an intolerable culture and widespread abuse of its athletes.
There are moments in life where situations arise that pull back a curtain and reveal our humanity and the fragility of human life. I cannot begin to understand the pressure or vulnerability that Simone is facing during the Olympic Games. Still, I am grateful for the example she is setting of grace and courage. As families are watching and discussing this Olympic Games from couches across America and the world, I think we have an opportunity to talk to our kids about our need for God.
Simone’s humanity is our humanity.
We have a unique moment to identify how our humanity and failures are road signs that lead us back to God. Here are four Gospel conversations to have based on the Olympics and Simone Biles.
1. Gold medals and accomplishments do not define you.
The Olympics is all about winning the GOLD. The temptation to strive for self-glory is not a new one; you can trace this quest back to the garden. Adam and Eve chose to follow their way rather than God’s way (Gen 3:1-9). We chose the path of self-glory when God our Creator had made us for something more (Gen 1:26-31).
Culture tells our kids that they are what they accomplish. The Bible offers us something different. The Bible says that God made humans in his image. Because God is holy and set apart, all human life is sacred and set apart regardless of accomplishments and achievements. God is of infinite worth, beauty, and glory, and his children are valuable, beautiful, and significant because of him. We are more than our accomplishments, achievements, and accolades. Even gold medal winners fail and fall. Athletes like Simone Biles win and lose, but the value of a person is safe and secure when found in God. Your kids need this good news. God offers them value and worth that never changes.
Conversation starters: Why do gold medals matter so much in the Olympics? Is a person who wins a gold medal more valuable than a person in the last place? Where do you get your value? Why is this important?
2. The approval of God is more important than the approval of others.
As you watch the Olympic games, be mindful of the impact that the cheering crowds and running commentary have on your children. The Bible says in Proverbs 29:25,
“The fear of man lays a snare, but whoever trusts in the Lord is safe.”
The longing of the human heart for approval shows us our need for trustworthy and abiding affirmation. Once you teach your heart to desire approval from others, that craving is never satisfied. It is a snare because never lasts long and keeps you coming back.
Those who trust in the Lord for his approval rest safe. God’s approval of us is based on the perfect work of Jesus. Jesus is perfect, and his work on the cross for our sake is complete (2 Cor 5:21). Jesus was “despised and rejected by men” to save us by his death and resurrection (Is 53). Everyone who trusts in Jesus for salvation is safe, secure, loved, and a part of God’s family (Gal 2:20, 1 Pt 2:9-10). Real and lasting security is found not in the opinions of people but only in Jesus Christ.
Conversation starters: Look at how the crowds cheer for the gold medal winners. What do you think would change if they finished last? When do you feel like a gold medal winner? Is it safe to base our feelings about ourselves on whether people like us or are happy with us? How does God love you? Will God’s love ever change? (Rom 8:31-39)
3. You are not perfect.
Judges score Olympic sports like gymnastics based on “perfect” performances. Athletes that we look up to, like Simone Biles, are speaking out about the pressure for perfection. Simone has described the pressure she is under as “the weight of the world.” Former Olympic gold medalist Nastia Liukin said,
“I feel like at times, people forget that even the very best in the world are still human- with hearts, nerves, pain, stress, anxiety, pressure.”
Interestingly, spectators of the Olympics games aren’t watching to see the athletes’ failures, our hearts long to see the super-human, perfect performances. If we are honest, we are disappointed when our sports idols struggle with their humanity. Maybe it’s because we bring messianic expectations with us when we watch the Olympic Games. We want to see the perfect victor. We want to see that superheroes are real. What we bring as spectators is a longing for Jesus. He is God that became a man (Jn 1:14). He is perfect and is the Victor who stands at the end of time to defeat the real enemy. Jesus won’t wear a gold medal; he will sit on a throne. All who wear crowns of glory will cast them down at the feet of Jesus saying,
“Worthy are you, our Lord and God, to receive glory and honor and power, for you created all things, and by your will they existed and were created (Rev 4:11).”
Our sports idols are human, and we are not perfect. Our imperfections are road signs that lead us back to our need for God. We fall, fail, and sin, but God has sent Jesus to be our perfect Savior and our substitute sacrifice for our sin. When our hearts long to see the perfect victor in the Olympic Games, we must recognize that our hearts are longing for Jesus.
Conversation starters: Can anyone be truly perfect? When we are faced with our failures, shortcomings, and sin, what good news has God given us in Jesus? What do our hearts want in the perfect victor? How is Jesus the Victor that will never fail us?
4. God’s story brings all nations from everywhere together for one purpose.
In a world filled with racial strife and war, part of our obsession with the Olympic Games is a longing for peace and a better world. The Opening Ceremonies celebrate different cultures coming under one roof bonded together by a love for sports. But as the athletes gather under the banner of their countries, war and strife carry on outside the walls.
The spirit of the Olympic Games leaves us disappointed, but God’s story should fill our hearts with great hope. God offers humanity a story where all nations gather together for one purpose.
“…Behold, a great multitude that no one could number, from every nation, from all tribes and peoples and languages, standing before the throne and before the Lamb, clothed in white robes, with palm branches in their hands, and crying out with a loud voice, ‘Salvation belongs to our God who sits on the throne, and to the Lamb!’” (Rev 7:9-10).
One day Jesus will make war and sorrow cease, and people from all nations come before the throne of God. God promises that he will dwell with his people. Jesus will wipe away every tear, there will be no more death or pain, and he will make all things new (Rev 21).
At the end of the Olympic Games, my family always feel a little sad. There’s no exciting event to look forward to or read about online. Things go back to normal. We might be disappointed by a certain athlete’s performance or by the news being filled again with stories of reality. It’s essential to recognize that our true longing is for God’s story. Jesus is offering us hope that He who promised this future will not fail us!
“And he who was seated on the throne said, ‘Behold, I am making all things new.’ Also he said, ‘Write this down, for these words are trustworthy and true’” (Rev 21:5).
Conversation starters: Why do you think you love the Olympics? Why do we love to see all the nations come together during the Olympics? What vision for the future does the Bible give us about the countries of the world? Why does this vision fill our hearts with hope?
Picture: Kate in her gymnastics days with Béla Károlyi