Skiers fly through the wind like birds landing lightly on the snow; lugers plunge down the chute at 90 mph in a death defying dive; skaters slice through the ice and downhill skiers carve moguls on the mountain. The Vancouver Olympics stir memories: the magnificence of the mountains, the silence of the snow, the rush of the wind. (I started snow skiing in 1978, broke my leg in March of 1992 while skiing with my son and skied again before the year was out.)
But it is more than the majesty of the mountains and the beauty of the sport. I am captivated by the personal stories. In the classic words from Wide World of Sports, it is “the thrill of victory and the agony of defeat.” It is the tragic story of Nodar Kumaritashvili’s fatal crash on the luge the day before opening ceremonies or Lindsey Vonn’s struggle to overcome a bruised leg and win gold in the downhill.
The Winter Olympics remind us of Dan Jansen skating for gold moments after his sister died only to crash into the wall on the final turn. Who can forget the image of Jansen sitting forlorn on the ice? Four years later he returned to capture the top medal and carried his one-year-old daughter on a victory lap in memory of his sister.
Two thousand years ago the Apostle Paul used Olympic metaphors to help us understand faith. He wrote, “Do you not know that those who run in a race all run, but only one receives the prize? Run in such a way that you may win. Everyone who competes in the games exercises self-control in all things They then do it to receive a perishable wreath, but we an imperishable. Therefore I run in such a way, as not without aim; I box in such a way, as not beating the air; but I discipline my body and make it my slave, so that, after I have preached to others, I myself will not be disqualified.” (1 Corinthians 9:24-27).
The race is different for each of us. Our challenges are unique. But we all have a race to run, a challenge to face. No one has the luxury of sitting on the sidelines as a spectator. Faith requires discipline, determination, perseverance and sacrifice. The good news is that we don’t have to face our challenges alone. We are surrounded by those who have gone before who cheer us on through our discouragements and defeats. We have One who has run the race and shown us the way. We have One who enters the race alongside us, pacing us and spurring us on to the finish.
The author of Hebrews writes, “Therefore, since we are surrounded by such a great cloud of witnesses, let us throw off everything that hinders and the sin that so easily entangles, and let us run with perseverance the race marked out for us. Let us fix our eyes on Jesus, the author and perfecter of our faith, who for the joy set before him endured the cross, scorning its shame, and sat down at the right hand of the throne of God. Consider him who endured such opposition from sinful men, so that you will not grow weary and lose heart.” (Hebrews 12:1-3).