The Vancouver Winter Olympics are underway! After months of anticipation, the games are finally a reality. Go, Canada, go!
Like most Canadians, I have been enjoying the games. The opening ceremonies were spectacular and did a good job at honouring Native culture. The fence around the cauldron is unfortunate, and the weather has been wacky, but the games continue, and overall most Canadians seem genuinely enthusiastic. Despite some negative press and complaints about the inevitable glitches, there is lots to cheer about. The accomplishments of the athletes are truly impressive, and their level of dedication to the training and preparation process is a good reminder of the value of discipline and sacrifice. Some of the contestants have had to overcome great obstacles to get to where they are. When I hear the stories of some of the individual athletes, I am struck by their willingness to sacrifice and endure pain and hardship for the sake of an opportunity to compete.
Many of the sports also highlight the importance of teamwork, and there can be high drama when a less-favoured but cohesive team scores an upset as a reward for their passion, perseverance and team effort. Thursday night’s hockey game, in which the Swiss team came within a hair of defeating Team Canada, was a prime example of this. The Swiss team had far less “star power” than Team Canada, and was not expected to win. They also had a hot goalie, a core of players that had been practising together for months, and that intangible element of desire and passion – and they almost pulled it off.
So was Switzerland’s almost-win a victory or a defeat? It depends on your perspective. I’m guessing that the Swiss are proud of their team today – as they should be. Even though I’m cheering for Team Canada, secretly I’m happy that the Swiss came so close Thursday night. Their near-upset was a good reminder for Team Canada that it takes more than talent to win a tournament, and that over-confidence (aka pride) can be costly.
The Swiss hockey team’s effort Thursday night was also a great demonstration of those intangibles – team play, courage, perseverance, giving your all for a great cause – that make the Olympics so exciting. The Hudson’s Bay Company has hit upon a very compelling advertising theme for the Olympics with their slogan We were made for this. Just as significant is the Believe theme chosen by CTV and Rogers for the games. These advertisers have put their finger on the desire of the human heart to believe in something beyond ourselves and to give our best for a high calling. Events like the Olympics remind us that there is more to life than the everyday, humdrum routine of work, eat, sleep. There is glory to be won, there are prizes to contend for, there are great causes to embrace.
For most of us, though, Olympic glory can never be more than second-hand. When it comes to the Olympics – or, for that matter, the SuperBowl or the Stanley Cup, or American Idol, the Academy Awards, and so forth – the most I can expect to do is take pride in someone else’s accomplishments, not my own. I have no illusions about ever being a superstar in any form of athletics or entertainment.
This thought doesn’t worry me, because in the end, contests like the Olympics aren’t really that important. The reason they are valuable is because they remind us of the contest that really counts. It’s the great cosmic battle between darkness and light, and the future of the human race is at stake. The good news is that the final outcome has already been determined. Heaven’s champion has already run his race and has won the gold medal for us. But unlike the Olympics, we get to do more than just watch – we get to run too. Amazingly enough, unqualified though we may be, we all have an invitation from Jesus, the Victor, to be on his team. If we run the race, we are guaranteed a share in His victory. Everyone who joins His team gets the gold. In fact, we must run if we want to obtain the prize that is waiting for us. If we don’t run, we forfeit – to our eternal loss. But even though we’re guaranteed a share in His victory if we run the race, it’s no cakewalk. This race involves faith, training, courage, sacrifice, and life-long perseverance.
In the end, Olympic glory will fade. There is only one prize that will endure forever – the prize of God’s smile, His approval. Compared to this prize, nothing else ultimately matters. It’s the reward for turning away from the self-preoccupation that is so characteristic of our age, and choosing to live my life for the pleasure of the One who sacrificed His life for me.
I’ve made my choice – I’m going for the gold. How about you?