A friend and I were watching the Olympics. She turned to me and said, "Doesn't watching this make you want to take up a sport?" I told her "No, but it really makes me want to do my own work better."
How does admiring Olympic athletes inspire me in my work even though what I do isn't even remotely connected to sports? I think it has a lot to do with loving the qualities being expressed.
When I heard that a woman from Uzbekistan, Natalya Ponomareva, would compete in the pairs figure skating even though she had a broken foot, I was awed by her courage and determination. Although she didn't have a chance at a medal, she said she didn't want to miss the Olympics. She successfully completed her program.
Watching her performance made me ask myself, "Am I willing to express the same courage and determination in my own work no matter what the obstacles? Especially if it doesn't look like I will get a big enough reward?" These questions have given me a lot to think about.
Sometimes it's easy to look at Olympic athletes and focus only on the moments of triumph and overlook all the hard work that goes into becoming an Olympian.
I was inspired when I heard about Russian figure skater Elena Berezhnaya, who made a comeback after an accident in 1996 that had initially left her partially paralyzed on one side of her body. Her future might have looked bleak in those days following the accident, but she refused to give up. Instead, she expressed the persistence and resilience needed not only to skate again but to continue to succeed.
What makes it possible for any of us to express these qualities? Of course, desire is a step in the right direction, but there's more to it than just wanting to do something well.
The key is that the qualities these athletes express - strength, persistence, courage, fearlessness, etc. - are not qualities they have created themselves. Not just these star athletes, but each one of us, is created by God to be His expression. Mary Baker Eddy, the Discoverer of Christian Science, wrote: "God expresses in man the infinite idea forever developing itself, broadening and rising higher and higher from a boundless basis" ("Science and Health with Key to the Scriptures," pg. 258).
Jesus was crystal clear in his expression of God's qualities, and he leaned completely on God, Spirit, to do his work. He readily admits: "The Son can do nothing of himself, but what he seeth the Father do: for what things soever he doeth, these also doeth the Son likewise" (John 5:19).
It's true that none of us is anywhere near the point where Jesus was in his unique demonstration of God's power and presence. But it certainly is legitimate to learn from his example of relying on God instead of feeling removed from it. Because the truth is that we, too, are children of God who are here to do good works and fulfill our own purpose. The Bible says it this way: "We are his workmanship, created in Christ Jesus unto good works" (Eph. 2:10).
So, as I sit in front of my TV and watch the Olympics, I can claim the fact that I reflect, as God's image and likeness, the strength, love, dedication, and commitment I need to do my own work better. And I can be willing not only to recognize my connection to God but also to pray for the strength from God to put into practice expressing more of what I want to be - whether it's more persistent, patient, strong, fearless.
I think of my own relatively new career, and I'm encouraged by others who have found the strength, love, and devotion to work hard, to persist each day. Michelle Kwan, a US figure skater, was quoted as saying: "There's not a day when you're not tired and hurting, when you don't have to plead with yourself, 'just keep on going' " (Newsweek, Feb. 18). In a special way, I feel connected to these athletes as I persist with my own work and strive to do it better each day.
These qualities of God so beautifully expressed on the ice and the ski slopes don't belong exclusively to a select group. They belong to each of us. All of us can experience the joy of devoting ourselves more wholeheartedly to being the best we can be, knowing that, as the Bible says, it is God at work in us, giving us the will and power to achieve His purpose (see Phil. 2:13).