The Olympics are back, bringing with them stories of incredible effort, devotion and sacrifice. Some champions will ascend from the depths of anonymity, while some anticipated winners will fall spectacularly short of the goal. All who contend worked hard, all have exceptional skill and talent. All are possessed with single minded dedication to their sport, all have sacrificed greatly in pursuit of their goals.
These sacrifices aren't limited to the athletes. Each Olympiad brings stories of parents giving everything they could to support their child's dream. Over and over again we are told tales of families who relocated so their children could train in the best facilities with the best coaches, who borrowed against or spent their life's savings, or who gave up careers and relationships in order to commit hours taking children to and from practices and competitions. The impact on families is immense. Their are neglected children who grew up in their sibling's shadow, who dealt with their parent's frequent absences, and who did their best to make do with a too small portion of parental attention.
I wonder if it’s worth it.
The winners often declare that winning justifies all of the pain, all of the sacrifice, but does it?
Most winners are quickly forgotten. (Quick- name one of the six US men’s track and field gold medalists from 2016.) Non-winners, all of whom make similar sacrifices, receive nothing in return for their efforts. When their 15 minutes of fame are over they often have little to show for it. The hours spent away from family and friends are lost forever, the pains and scars from injuries endure for a lifetime, remaining long after their brief Olympic moments fade out of memory. It seems a very high price to pay.
Perhaps I am growing cynical with age, but winning doesn't mean that much to me anymore. My earthly achievements do not reach Olympic proportions, but I have had moments of fame and success. When I look back on things that I have won, Chess trophies, Academic honors, and over $100,000 on multiple television game shows, I realize that in spite of the momentary elation I felt at the time, none of these "wins" made a significant difference in my life. Most people I meet have no knowledge of the awards from my past. What matters are not the things I have won but the person I am and the person I am becoming.
It is faithfulness and character that matter the most. There are no medals and trophies handed out for being a better person each day, but I believe that if I sacrifice myself daily working to be the person God wants me to be, if I focus my eyes on eternal things and strive to love God and others with all of my heart, that none of my efforts will be wasted. To me, this is the prize worth giving my life up for.