I was watching the women's gymnastics last night and though the Chinese were highly-favored, there was a glimmer of hope for the USA to catch them as - amazingly - one Chinese girl fell off the balance beam. That cost them heavily and so the USA team saw they had a chance to close the gap. There was anticipation in the air. All that had to happen was that the USA girls not commit the same error.
They did. And later commited another error. It was the same gymnast in both cases, too. As she stepped off the mat, she went to her coach and you could see she was visibly upset - all that training, only to fail when it counted the most. She was mouthing "I'm sorry!"
The lady coach reached out one arm and patted her and let her go.
The distance between them was a huge gap. She had failed. So she received little affirmation. I could not help but think that right when this high-performance athlete needed comfort the most, she could not receive it.
Please do not misunderstand. The girl failed -but she was clearly ashamed and upset at failing her team, her coach, her nation. In commenting on the reasons for this failure, Bob Costas was speaking again to the old Russian Gentleman who stated boldly WHY the Chinese girls (whom he understood clearly to be under-age for this event, but what could you prove?) were winning:
Russian: "They are 14-15 year old girls! They are having fun! They do not know
responsibility! It is not a weight on them like these others!"
Costas: "Now you just said something: the age for this event is 16 - and you a saying they are not?"
Russian: "Bah! We have no documents, no proof except their passport - and their government issues that. What can you say?"
I was stunned at the wisdom of this former athlete and member of Stalinist Russia - he was well-acquainted with how men will lie to take what they want. He took it as a matter of course. But he did also praise the girls -he knew what joy was in their unbounded and unfettered hearts. They were good -and he knew why: they did not wear the burden of an impossible responsibility. At least not yet.
And so the USA lost, but got the Silver they were expected to win. And the Chinese got the Gold that they technically should have been disqualified from, but the joy and performance of the Chinese team was infectious. I liked them. They were out to do the best they could do for their country and did it joyfully.
And that leads to a discussion of how we win in Christ, and how we should not, and how high performance does not come from laws and regulations, but by heart and soul and joy.
In other words, grace and acceptance is the purest form of love -and it smokes the "legitimate" competition every time.
Did you ever see the film Amadeus? Mozart is a child prodigy, profane and iconoclastic - but he is brilliant, "making such music as has never been heard before." At first, Salieri admires him. Then when he realizes his lack of discipline, his failure to "play by the rules", and his blazing success in doing so - he sets out to destroy him.
Do you know what killed the USA team? It was a desire to win instead of just being the best they were. They got unnerved and lost their heart to perform.
I watched it happen - when the gymnast failed she got MORE love from her fellow teammates than she did from her coach. Trust me, I am not damning her coach -but once the other girls saw that "Failure = approbation from my mentor", they lost heart. Maybe just a fraction of their confidence, but it was enough to undermine the rest of their performance.
Mozart performs well 'cause frankly, he doesn't care: he is out to make something beautiful, not impress the crowd or win points.
That is so like Jesus. Let me end with how Jesus comforts one of His men who failed in courage - after he had promised Jesus he wouldn't:
Jesus said to them, "Come and have breakfast." None of the disciples dared ask him, "Who are you?" They knew it was the Lord.
Jesus came, took the bread and gave it to them, and did the same with the fish. (This was now the third time Jesus appeared to his disciples after he was raised from the dead.) When they had finished eating, Jesus said to Simon Peter, "Simon son of
John, do you truly love me more than these?"
"Yes, Lord," he said, "you know that I love you."
Jesus said, "Feed my lambs."
Again Jesus said, "Simon son of John, do you truly love me?"
He answered, "Yes, Lord, you know that I love you."
Jesus said, "Take care of my sheep."
The third time he said to him, "Simon son of John, do you love me?" (Peter was hurt because Jesus asked him the third time, "Do you love me?")
He said, "Lord, you know all things; you know that I love you."
Jesus said, "Feed my sheep. I tell you the truth, when you were younger you dressed yourself and went where you wanted; but when you are old you will stretch out your hands, and someone else will dress you and lead you where you do not want to go." (Jesus said this to indicate the kind of death by which Peter would glorify God.)
Then he said to him, "Follow me!"
Many people think this is where Jesus' "re-instates Peter". That is pure crap.
This is where Jesus re-directs Peter: "Peter - don't do anything big - JUST feed my sheep. When you become a wise and mature disciple, you'll die like a man for me. You won't even have to hunt it down -they'll come and get you. But for now -feed my sheep!"
He removes the responsibility of performance from Peter -and thus Peter's fear of failing all over again. All the Lord of Creation wants for this man to do from now on is to feed sheep -not fight Satan, overthrow the Temple in Jerusalem, begin a Christian state to protect all Believers - just feed His flock the Word of God.
In other words: "Just lead a Bible study, Peter. Anything else is too much. Fear and the resulting anxiety will make you fail. And for pity's sake, don't worry about what anyone else is doing -just follow Me."
Peter kept forgetting the gospel of grace - even Paul had to straighten him out in Galatians 2. He had become performance-based, not joy & grace based, and it made him a hypocrite - that's Greek for "actor". Yeah. A hypocrite is an actor.
We cannot simply be actors. We must believe and be loved. We must have joy. Because if we do not, we lose twice - the competition before the world and the love we have between friends.
Grace and love is for those who do not deserve it. Those who fail when they promised to do their best.
That includes me.
That includes you.