What does it mean to be a true athlete?

A Christian Science perspective: We can all express the qualities of a true athlete, which come from God.

As I was walking onto the tennis courts one day, I overheard a fitness coach encouraging her class: “Come on athletes! Show me what you’ve got!” I love that she called them “athletes” because sometimes when we’re participating in our chosen sport or activity, we feel far short of a true athlete.

What does it mean to be a true athlete? Does it mean Olympic status, medals, rings, and trophies? Or could a true athlete be one who inspires, encourages, and uplifts others – one defined by the Godlike qualities expressed, such as good sportsmanship, patience, strength, endurance, focus, ability, and so many other qualities needed on the field and court, and in the arena?

It seems axiomatic that a true athlete, one who shows a love of a chosen sport, along with the necessary skill and ability to perform, is much more than simply a strategic player or muscled body. I’ve come to understand through my study of Christian Science that the qualities that have their source in God – such as agility and compassion – enable an athlete to refine and express humility, honesty, and leadership at any level of play.

But what if we’re struggling to express these God-given qualities, despite our best intentions? What if under the stress of competition we seem to lose our kindness, strength, or focus, and at the end of the day find we yielded to a cutthroat attitude or dishonesty in our calls, or even momentarily hated our opponent?

It’s at times like this that we can turn our thought to this idea explained by Mary Baker Eddy, the Founder of Christian Science: “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,” p. 258).

God expresses in His spiritual creation, man – in you and me – His infinite perfection. Because we are actually made in His spiritual image (see Genesis 1:26, 27), we reflect Him at all times, and are at one with Him. He expresses in us His strength. And more, this true, spiritual identity has no limitation, no finiteness, no circumscribed cause.

This means that as we spiritually uplift our thought to better understand our spiritual at-one-ment with God, our skills, abilities, and character are naturally improved because we better understand that our capability emanates from God, good, its source, and not merely from our human endeavors. As we prayerfully turn to God with a desire to express patience, humility, and endurance, we learn to rely on Him. We realize that He upholds us as His perfect idea, or creation, and thus it is natural for us to demonstrate competency, ability, strength, endurance.

Certainly, the biblical David, as a young shepherd, expressed skill and ability in protecting his flock and finding food. He trusted in God and found he was not limited in his skill in time of great need. His exactness, strength, and fearlessness, all derived from God, broadened in a time of great need, thus enabling him to protect his people with just one shot from his sling, resulting in the slaying of the giant Goliath (see I Samuel 17). When a young Daniel was in the king’s court, it’s recorded that God gave him “knowledge and skill in all learning and wisdom” (Daniel 1:17).

Our need may be for more kindness, good sportsmanship, skill, or something else, but we can rest assured that as Daniel and David showed – and as Christ Jesus proved time and time again – God gives us the ability to do what we need to do. So, as we prayerfully turn to God with a humble desire to understand and express our true selfhood as His image and likeness, we too will find more and more that we will have ability, strength, and love, and overcome timidity, fear, and hostility. Then, we’ll find that whether our endeavors are recreational or competitive, we really can be true athletes.

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