A Gathering Voices post by Lynne M. Baab
When you watch the Olympics in New Zealand, where I live, you watch a lot of rowing. New Zealanders had high hopes for those events, and indeed those hopes panned out. New Zealand’s first gold medal at these Olympics went to Nathan Cohen and Joseph Sullivan, double scullers, who are known for their amazing last minute burst of speed. They tend to lag behind for the first three-quarters of their races, then come from behind in the last 500 meters. That’s what they did in London in the heat I watched, and then again in the finals.
I pondered the pictures of those awards for quite a while. One of my two reflective moments during these Olympics came as I looked at that picture. Here are two men who are outliers in terms of size in their sport, yet they haven’t let their size stop them from doing their best.
There have always been so many ways I felt like I didn’t fit in, and so many times I have let those feelings stop me from doing my best. I was never as extraverted as my mother, and for much of my life it has been hard for me to see the gifts that introversion brings. I have always struggled with my weight, and at times I have let my sense of looking fat stop me from stepping out. I was always an outlier because of my analytical ways of thinking and my interest in math and science as a young adult, and my mind seemed to be more masculine than feminine. I found that hard to deal with.
As I looked at pictures of those two rowers, dwarfed by their competitors, all my feelings of not fitting in came to mind. I want to be willing to work hard and risk like they did. I want to give God my best, rather than let myself be held back by the ways I feel like I don’t fit in. I want to follow the voice of Jesus, even when I’m not sure if I have the qualifications to do what lies ahead of me.
The other Olympics moment that made me stop and ponder came during the women’s quad rowing. It was a heat, not the finals, and the team from New Zealand was in the middle of the pack moving forward. I had already watched a heat with Cohen and Sullivan, and I wondered if coming from behind was a Kiwi attribute. I was rooting for those four women who were inching ahead, when suddenly the four of them stopped dead in the water and the other boats went on without them. Within only a second or two the Kiwi rowers had disappeared from the TV screen and the race went on without them.
Later I learned that one of the Kiwi rowers had “caught a crab” and her oar broke. Did her oar hit something in the water or did she simply lose control of it because of the choppy water that day? In any case, the team of four women was finished at this Olympics.
I’ll never forget that moment when their little boat abruptly fell out of the moving picture. Boom. Dreams over. Those moments happen to all of us, and I wondered if I am willing to believe Jesus is on the boat with me when something awful happens. Or do I fall into the triumphalistic outlook that means I experience Jesus' presence most clearly when things are going well? Am I willing to look for the man of sorrows who partners with us in every kind of human suffering, who redeems human pain? Do I expect Jesus to be with me when I am dead in the water?
It’s great for me that so much rowing has been on TV. For some reason, God has used those rowers to speak to me.