The spirit of the 2016 Summer Olympics has spread around the world. The opening ceremony’s Parade of Nations brought its vast diversity into our living rooms, offices and classrooms through screens across the globe. For a few short weeks we revel in the gifts of wonder and awe, watching athletes at the top of their fields compete on a global stage in Rio.
My favorite part of the games is catching a glimpse of the athletes’ stories, of the remarkable discipline and sacrifice and inspiration they live in their day-to-day lives. Hours of grueling training and coping with injuries are often part of the experience. And competing at this level is not for the shy and timid. Athletes put all they have—and more—into their craft. Resiliency and the ability to adapt are the lessons they continually teach on the long road to reach an Olympic-size dream. Yet for all the hardships behind the scenes there are moments of complete bliss for everyone—the athlete, the coach, the family and friends and their country—as cameras capture extreme accomplishments.
I wonder how many people are there to cheer for them at a 5 a.m. practice or as they attempt perfection on a balance beam, mere inches wide, over and over and over again? Hear their scream of victory as they round the track and beat their own best time? Where do they find the strength to keep going despite pain, criticism and judgment captured on film, in slow motion, for the world to see?
I wonder, too, if they’ve ever whispered “Show me a sign. Show me a sign that I’m on the right path, that I will accomplish what seems to be impossible.” Is their sport a doorway to their own lives of inner contemplation? Are they praying in motion while racing around corners, flying through the air? If so, how is this a lesson for discernment? Is your prayer life moving and not just confined to time spent in church? Do you recognize God in all parts of your life?
And just like you’ll find in any Olympic venue, event, there is pressure from the crowds surrounding us. Think for a moment of contemplatively praying with a group of sisters, brothers or priests who have been doing so for more than 40 years. Your presence in such silence may feel awkward. You may fumble, fidget in your chair, notice the ticking of the clock and wonder if your experiencing the same feelings they are.
But you don’t have to be a skilled athlete of prayer. Opportunity arises to practice and build an inner discipline and commitment to time of contemplation. Just like in athletic competitions there are moments in life that feel right, in which we get the results that we’re most hoping for. In prayer, we are not competing with others; rather, we are challenging ourselves. There are no qualifiers or time trials. A willing heart is our admission to the experience. A gold medal is not the reward. A deeper relationship with God is.
Will you take the challenge and offer all you have to God? How will you commit daily to your lifelong dream of a deeper relationship with God?