Inspired by Greatness

It’s that time again! Olympics 2016!

There is something so special about watching people achieve what seems to be the impossible, and who are so driven by hard work and dedication. Even if you are not really into watching sports, it’s hard not to get caught up in all the excitement at some point. The Olympics are inspiring because they are very visible examples of people reaching their peak—sometimes literally climbing or biking up mountains to obtain the highest achievement for an athlete. After all the hard work and dedication, they achieve something that is above and beyond: a chance to be named the greatest athletes in the world.

Though most of us will never set foot on an Olympic field, are we not all called to greatness of some sort? Personally, I feel this tugging at my heart daily. My mind is always racking itself with ways that I can improve myself, maybe not so that I can “win the gold,” but just all around become a better version of myself. I often find myself thinking about the improved version of myself, envisioning myself as a runner, or a better and more consistent writer; having a more organized and clean house, or being able to easily dive deeper into my life of prayer. The better version of myself is more patient, a better listener, and doesn’t get overwhelmed when a mistake is made.  This version of me is more attentive to others, holier, and willingly says yes to God at all times.  My ambitions may appear meager in comparison to those of these well-trained athletes, but they nonetheless similarly leave me feeling as though I have a mountain to climb. It’s often as if I’m standing on my tippy toes striving to see over the big wall that exists between who I am, and the better version of myself that I aspire to be. I desire to become this fit and saintly version of myself, but damn does it require work.

Why can’t we just have what we want, when we desire it? Why doesn’t God just pour forth an overwhelming amount of grace over me and immediately transform me into the woman that I so long to be? Ultimately, because God knows that the proof is in the pudding. Effort must spring forth from hope if we want to obtain what we desire. Achieving any form of greatness requires work, discipline, and training.   It requires a can-do attitude in the face of adversity and a perseverance that is relentless. It requires us to see the light at the end of the tunnel and choose to traverse the rocky terrain. It requires us to properly order our action. Why do the Olympians get up on a daily basis and train and discipline their bodies and appetites? It’s because they hope for the greatness that is possible to achieve through choice. They saw a goal in mind, and worked their tails off for even a chance to compete for the prize. They continually said yes to the hard stuff and worked towards unceasing transformation—and it is awe-inspiring.

And it is not all glory either. I happened to catch a piece of the women’s cycling road race, and the Dutch cyclist Annemiek van Vlueten, while in the lead and nearing the finish line, crashed horribly on the side of a curb. I honestly thought she was dead. Praise God, she is stable right now and in okay condition, but it reminds me of all the times I crash and burn. It is so easy to wallow in the fall. Yet we cannot let the fear of failing or falling overcome us or prevent us from trying. In looking into her history a bit I learned that this wasn’t her first big spill. She recently overcame a crash where she was hit by a car while cycling, yet she worked her way back ultimately qualifying for the Olympic races. That, in itself, is incredible.

We all have an opportunity for greatness. It may not look the same or generate the same kind of publicity or hype, but we are all called to become better versions of ourselves. We daily have the opportunity to say yes to this calling, and to choose to push forward towards the good. God allows us to participate in our own transformation by permitting us to actively choose the kind of person that we want and are made to be. But the greatness that we all desire to achieve requires unceasing work and effort; there is no getting around that. Sitting on our daily opportunities—and really, our obligations—to fine-tune our bodies, and more importantly our spirits, won’t lead us to the holy, good, and accomplished people we desire to be, just as sitting on the couch and dreaming our way to the Olympics wont get us to Rio. We cannot laze our way to the top, just as we cannot cheat our way there. How boring would it be if the Olympians each received magic beans that turned them into the incredible athletes that we know and witness? How lame would it be if athletes were allowed to alter their natural state and enhance their abilities by doping? It is the process of transformation that affords greatness, and the process requires great effort and work.

Contrary to what the world tells us, achieving holiness today is possible, but it requires disciplining our spirits through prayer, devotion, sacrifice, and a whole lot of dying to self.  It is hard stuff.  Yet we do all this for the ultimate prize: so that we may rise with Christ. Our true authentic opportunity for greatness doesn’t subsist in ourselves; it subsists in God. We are all called to happiness, but the everlasting joy and achievement we all so desire comes from uniting ourselves to the Ultimate Good, our Lord and Savior Jesus Christ. This is something we cannot achieve merely on our own. Yet, when we put in the effort—when we say yes in response to God—he fills us with the grace we need to strengthen and sustain our yes, and that is when true transformation can take place.  May we all be able to face God someday and like Saint Paul confidently and lovingly say,  “I have competed well; I have finished the race; I have kept the faith.” 

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