It is 2016 which means Olympics and elections. Thankfully it is Olympic season right now. I love the Olympics.(almost as much as I hate the elections) Love, love, love. The dreams being realized, dedication and sacrifice paying off, seeing the best of the best compete…it is inspiring on so many levels. Not inspiring enough to make me put down the cookie dough and start training for an event…but inspiring in other ways.
This year was truly special because of Michael Phelps. Even if you don’t watch the Olympic games, you’ve probably heard of him. Greatest Olympic Athlete of all time. ALL time. Like in over 2,000 years of games, no one has ever done what he has done. That is amazing to me. 2016 was Phelps 5th Olympics. His very first Olympic competition was in 2000 and he walked away with no medals. By 2008, he was being compared to Mark Spitz who was considered the greatest swimmer of all time. And Phelp’s response to that was so interesting to me. He said, after being incredibly honoring about Spitz and all he had accomplished, “I don’t want to be the second Mark Spitz. I want to be the first Michael Phelps. I want to do something no one has ever done before.”
Wow. Just wow. I get emotional when I read that quote. Partially because we now see eight years later that is exactly what Phelps has done and we are so grateful he never settled for being another version of someone else. And partially because I know how often I would settle for being the second someone else- sometimes anyone else. How many of us would be happy to be the next…Beth Moore? Martha Stewart? Condoleezza Rice? Too high a goal? Okay how about the next whatever you compare yourself to and come up lacking… the girl at the gym whose weight never fluctuates, the mom at church whose kids are always well-behaved and well-dressed (okay, they don’t even have to be well dressed-fully dressed would do- not missing shoes or socks or my personal favorite- their underwear), the mom of 5 who homeschools and runs her own business while volunteering for a local charity and still has a home-cooked meal on the table every night (she has to have made a deal with the devil hasn’t she?).
We spend so much time comparing and coming up lacking that we never stop to think about who we really are and why we are here. I was made to be the first Brooke Kireta, not the second someone else. I was created to bring a piece of God’s glory and character to this earth that no one else can bring. I was made to do something no one else has ever done. And so were you. I think so few of us ever do it because we spend our time trying to redo something someone else has already done and then beating ourselves up because we don’t do it as well as they did.
If we could really grab hold of our true identity and live out of it- we would stop feeling so threatened by others and start celebrating their uniqueness. Because if I don’t have to do something better than you’ve done it- or even do it as well as you’ve done it- then I can sit back and cheer you on in your victories and encourage you in your failures.
Phelps has won 28 Olympic medals, 23 of them gold. He holds the record for the most Olympic medals won, the most gold medals won, most medals won for swimming, most gold medals won in a single Olympic games, and he is one of only three Americans to win gold in the same event four times. This year at Rio, he had the opportunity to set another Olympic record- to become the only person to have ever won two separate individual events four times.
This was appointment TV for me. I would not have missed it. I sat in my living room and watched and cheered and cried as Michael Phelps swam his last 100 meter butterfly in an Olympic game and did NOT take gold. He lost to Joseph Schooling from Singapore. Phelps last opportunity to set an Olympic record and someone else won. I want you to look at the picture of Phelps and Schooling leaving the medal stand - Phelps wearing the silver and Schooling wearing gold. Do you see the look on Phelps’ face? Again, I cry every time I look at this picture. This is the look of a man who knows who he is, who swam his race well. Because being who we were created to be and doing something no one has ever done before doesn’t mean we win every time, it doesn’t mean we are the best all the time, it doesn’t mean we are rich and famous, or popular and well-known. It is a place of confidence that we are living out of who we are and are doing what God put in us to do- and as we do we leave a legacy of hope and courage for those who come behind us and beside us.
Schooling stood on the medal stand wearing gold – the first gold medal his country of Singapore had ever won. Joseph Schooling had just done something no one had done before. And he beat Michael Phelps to do it. He looked at Phelps at one point and said, “I don’t know how to feel right now.” Phelps said, “I know.”
I praise you because I am fearfully and wonderfully made; your works are wonderful I know that full well.
Jesus, let us be the first us that you’ve ever made. Let us delight in Your creation and the goodness of what You make. Help us to lay down striving and comparison and step into our true identity- to celebrate that we were created to do something no one else has done or will ever do. Let us never settle for being another version of someone else. Let us be encouragers of one another as we run our race. Let us build up and not tear down. Let us know that someone else does not have to lose for us to take our place- that our place in You is secure – Your kingdom is always increasing and expanding. There is always more than enough room in a family. So let us truly belong to the family of God as we love ourselves and one another well.