This is the summer of the hero. It began with Brad Pitt bringing to life the fictional Achilles in "Troy." It then launched Lance Armstrong on his historic quest for a sixth Tour de France victory. And it will culminate in the best athletes vying for top honors at the Olympics in Athens.
Such physical feats can be impressive ... and intimidating. Who wants to feel like the wimp at the beach with the rest of the world swaggering past, their fit bodies rippling with power?
But power to push back our limits doesn't really originate in muscles, can't be defined through exercise and diet, and isn't lost through age or accident. We're compelled to find our source of strength elsewhere.
Our petite daughter spent a week at a seminar hosted by West Point Military Academy. It included grueling physical training that exhausted and overwhelmed some of the participants. But she was impressed by the wisdom shared by her commanders: The mind gives in long before the body will.
The mental component was the most important part of physical strength, she learned. Armed with that, she tasked herself to complete the training and pass the tests. And she did as well or better than many of the young men in the program with her.
It was a personal victory, since during her adolescence she'd had occasional episodes of fainting that were apparently tied to physical stress. In light of this, she needed to undergo rigorous medical tests in order to participate in the program. The physician determined that there was nothing to prohibit her from attending.
She found the mental strength to set her goals and meet them. It was a pattern of thinking she had been familiar with through Sunday School. Year after year, she had learned about biblical characters who overcame tremendous setbacks and limiting circumstances.
We later talked about the difference between personal willpower - mentally willing oneself to achieve - and relying on God's power. The prophet Isaiah expressed it this way: "Even the youths shall faint and be weary, and the young men shall utterly fall: but they that wait upon the Lord shall renew their strength; they shall mount up with wings as eagles; they shall run, and not be weary; and they shall walk, and not faint" (Isa. 40:30, 31).
Human resources can fail us. But relying on God - infinite Spirit - provides access to unlimited resources of courage, strength, agility, and grace. These qualities bring to our activities a transforming power that sweeps aside all that would try to stop us.
To access these resources, however, requires genuine humility - something just the opposite of willpower. The litmus test for me is whether I'm starting with an "I can do this" attitude or with "We can - You and I, God." The first approach might bring a measure of success. But the second is what gives us those divine wings to soar over our most daunting obstacles.
A number of years ago, I was engaged in a project I had spent well over a year diligently working on. Late in the process, one of the individuals reviewing it indicated it wasn't going to make the grade. My own efforts hadn't been enough. I had less than a month to revise and produce an entirely new project ... or simply withdraw from the program. I was already tired, but now I was utterly devastated.
It wasn't hard to find the humility needed to step aside and let God work with me. I prayed for help, and then allowed myself to be willing to be led in new directions.
The work required 18-hour days on the computer for three straight weeks to meet the deadline. But the exhilaration I felt in sharing this new inspiration held off exhaustion day after day. I knew what it was to be carried as if on "wings of eagles."
Without God, the project would have been a failure. But when it later received an award of highest distinction, it simply confirmed that God had been invited into the process and the original limits on my abilities and capabilities left behind.
Allowing God to work with us releases the hero within each of us. And we can soar on to our own victories ... in Athens, Greece, or Athens, Georgia.