Saturday, August 16, 2008

World-class Courage

What is it about the Olympics that can bring me to tears? Not many things do. I don’t often cry at movies, though a well-told love story will sometimes strike that chord. But sports can do it, especially something like this. Unlike a movie – or a so-called reality show – it’s real, even for someone like me who isn’t an athlete at all and scarcely a sports fan either.

So what is it, exactly, that touches me at that emotional level? Is it the inspiring music, the hope and hard work and tension and ambition, the gold medals and national anthems, the anxious looks on the family member’s faces, the ecstatic or heart-broken hugs with coaches…?

Or is it the universality of it, the fact that it brings people together from all across the world? After all, heaven is going to be like that: the book of Revelation tells us there will be some from every tribe, language, people, and nation, worshipping together – diversity in unity. That’s something very close to my heart.

Objectively, though, being a big fan of the Olympics seems a little funny if I stop and think about it. Why would someone we don’t know swimming 200 meters and touching a wall a fraction of a second before someone else does be so heroic and heart-stirring?

Yet there’s something about seeing someone put themselves out there pursing a dream that inspires us at a deep, personal level. It makes me cry when other things would not. These athletes are giving it their all, with no guarantees, and the whole world is watching and analyzing their choices and their slightest flaw. That takes courage, guts.

It’s easy to see how these things play out in sports or the performing arts, but what about more ordinary life, or areas of life that I might experience for myself? What does courage look like for you and me?

Enough people who watch my life have told me “I don’t think I could do what you do” that I’ve come to recognize that yes, in some aspects of my life I’m quite gutsy. I take on new challenges, take risks, put myself in situations where (like an athlete) I have to give it my all, with no promises and sometimes no safety net, and too many people watching. And yet, years of experience, access to those wiser than myself, the companionship of a supportive and talented team, and most of all, confidence of God’s leading and the prayers of many, all work together to really reduce the fear-factor for me.

What about courage in our everyday interpersonal relationships? In living lives of integrity and character when it’s inconvenient or seems like nobody will know (much less give out medals!)? That’s where I don’t feel so brave. Maybe it’s a different virtue. Not courage but something more like steadfastness.

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