Monday, August 13, 2012

Jesus and the Olympics

I feel like I’m experiencing déjà vu.

1996…. women’s gymnastics team wins the gold medal for the first time in history.
Elizabeth, my ten-years-old daughter, decides she wants to start doing gymnastics. I said YES!

Sixteen years later…..2012….. women’s gymnastics team wins gold for the second time in history.
Luke, Gracie, and Sara, 10, 9, and 8-years-old, ask to start doing gymnastics. This time I say no.

This post will probably offend people. It totally goes against American culture….the American norm. I’ll probably sound too radical to most of my readers and people will write to let me know all of the benefits of getting your children involved in sports.

Believe me, I wasn’t always hesitant about involving my children in extra-curricular activities. When Elizabeth asked to start gymnastics, we signed her up the next day. She had already had three years of ballet and a couple of years of soccer, not to mention involvement in community plays. When she started gymnastics, we discovered she had amazing talent. After only a couple of months in the sport, she became a level 5 gymnast and was competing with the team. She went to gymnastics camps and was told by big coaches that she had the talent to be one of the greatest gymnasts our country ever had! In two years, she was competing as a level 8 gymnast! Amazing!

But it didn’t come without a price. Five hours per day of practice, five days a week; hardly any family dinners together; driving 45 minutes back and forth each way to get her to the best gym in the area; big monthly training bills, as well as leotard and meet bills, etc. But the greatest price we paid was that our family was not Christ centered. We were Elizabeth centered. We were gymnastics centered. We were competition centered. We were achievement centered. There was no room or time for true servant living. We didn’t study the Word of God and pray together on a regular basis. We didn’t spend our time helping others—we were way too consumed with our own schedules—didn’t have time for anyone else.

In the end, although Elizabeth had the talent, she didn’t enjoy gymnastics anymore and the meets were too stressful for her. She quit and joined a dance company instead. She was amazing at that as well! The dance studio was closer to our house, but not any cheaper, and she was still involved about 18 hours per week. Our family life still was highly focused on our children and their talents and their achievements, and their desires— instead of on living the lifestyle Jesus taught us by his example.

Now, looking back, I have to ask myself, “How did it benefit Elizabeth in the long run to spend so many hours of her life focused on her physical talents in dance and gymnastics? How did it benefit our family? How did it benefit anyone outside of our family? What did it add to her soul? Did it prepare her for Heaven? Did it win anyone else’s soul for Heaven?

I’ve heard the justifications for heavy sports involvement……

”Your child learns to be a leader and can be a witness for Jesus through her sport.” Ok….if she really has leadership qualities, then I bet she can learn to be a leader as her parents teach her the Scriptures and get her involved in caring for the needy.

“Your child has a better chance of doing well in school and not getting involved in drugs if she is involved in sports.”
Ok, but who are we comparing her to? Sure, sports will keep her off drugs compared to her just being left to herself all the time. But a lot of time working together, playing together, praying together, and studying the Scriptures together as a family will also keep your child on the straight and narrow.

“Sports are good for your children to keep them physically fit”
True, but it isn’t necessary to run your whole family around your children’s sports schedules in order to keep them healthy. Families can go to the pool together, can go on bike rides, can go to the park, can go hiking, etc…….and the WHOLE family can be physically fit, instead of the parents sitting on the bleachers all the time!

There are many other valid reasons for children to participate in sports. I’m not knocking all sports involvement. But American families have turned their whole lives around and centered their families around their children’s extracurricular activities rather than around the Word of God. And it’s showing in children’s character—instead of humility there’s pride; instead of thankfulness there’s a sense of entitlement. And they know how to make their parents feel very guilty if they don’t get to be involved in every fun activity at their fingertips.

So as the 2012 Olympics has now come to a close, I congratulate everyone whose hard work paid off and landed them the chance to compete for a medal. And I share the joy with those who got to go home with one. And I especially rejoice with those who exalted the name of the Lord by glorifying and thanking Him for their successes. I recognize that there are a select few who, through their hard work and determination in their sport, will be shown open doors all over the world to share the gospel with the lost. Praise God for these!

But unfortunately, that’s not the norm for children whose families run their lives around the talents and passions of their kids. For sure, if we felt the Lord calling us to spend an enormous amount of time with one of our children in a particular sport, we would do it. We want to be open to anything God has for us and follow His path for our family. But where we are now, we know it’s more valuable for our children to exercise the gifts and callings of the Holy Spirit and to be an integral part of a family whose focus is learn to walk the way Jesus did on the earth…in humility, servanthood, sacrifice, and love. And in response to our kids’ fleeting desire to join gymnastics, we assured them that when they get to Heaven they will be able to do all the flips and twists their hearts desire!

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