The Olympics are coming to a close and one of the encouraging things I noted and many other’s noted to me about the Olympics was not only many of the athletes making the sign of the cross or some sign of faith before or after their competition, but also many of them talking about their faith in their interviews. The Post-Dispatch even had an article about this in the paper last weekend where it discussed if this gives any advantage to those athletes or not. I won’t address that topic, but consider instead what is the proper way to pray for an athlete?
The first inclination is to pray to win. I have to say this isn’t just for the athlete’s themselves but also for all of their fans. I believe I’ve heard more than a couple of prayers for the Cardinal’s to win at different times, and I even remember seeing a priest wear blue and gold vestments when the Rams went to the Super Bowl (somehow I don’t think I have to worry about that anymore). And it is great to hope to do well, and I don’t think there is anything wrong with wanting to win, but this can lead to the obvious question of God favoring one team over another, and somehow I don’t think that is the case, even in a World Series.
The fact that we would want to win is kind of inherent with any competition and so it can be a natural thing to pray for, but God isn’t really as concerned with our winning as with how we got to that point. Do we consider someone a better person than someone just because they won a competition? I think we usually consider a bit the different gifts people have, or the different obstacles they may have had to overcome. What if someone used some drug or other means that are illegal to achieve their victory? We hope that people will do the best they can with the gifts they have been given, and we realize that requires sacrifice and dedication to a purpose and on top of all the natural gifts they have been given. At those last moments before a competition the prayer that we perform at the best that we can; that we are grateful for all of the gifts, people, and opportunities that have gotten us here; that our performance may be a witness to the glory of God all seem appropriate. And after the competition saying a prayer of thanks, hopefully able to know that we did our best whether that resulted in a win or not. If we stumbled for the courage and strength to get back up. And whether we win or lose simply asking for the understanding or acceptance to hear God’s will over our pride or stubbornness on the path we are to take in our lives.
If we only valued earthly victories I think we would have to question why we honor martyrs? Their victory was to stay faithful in the most challenging conditions, and they would not be considered as having ‘won the gold medal’, but they did win the greater prize. If we face an illness should we only ask for a cure, or the ability to accept and live God’s will no matter the result? While I was on vacation in Great Britain I saw an ad for this summer’s Paralympics. Just to qualify you must have some impairment or disability, and yet recognizing this it celebrates the incredible things these athletes can do. You can see it on YouTube titled “We’re The Superhumans | Rio Paralympics 2016Trailer” (https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=IocLkk3aYlk ). You may notice they never show who wins or loses, only that they are competing.