Little do we know that most of the sports we watch with such intensity every four years do actually occur more often between each Games. There are world championships, national championships, and other events all over the world that involve each of these sports. We just don't bother watching until those five rings appear across the screen with Bob Costas starting to follow in Dick Clark's never-ending footsteps.
The Olympic dream is something I could never quite figure out. I have played my fair share of sports, and I have dreamt of biting that shiny medal around my neck as a child. I've watched the Olympics since the original Dream Team in Barcelona in '92, the Kerrigan-Harding saga in '94, Michael Johnson blinging his gold chain and matching shoes into the record books in the 200 and 400 meter dashes in Atlanta '96, Jonny Moseley making skiing cool again in '98, former Tarheel Vince Carter "poster-izing" a 7'2" player in Sydney '00, the Canadian pairs Sele' and Pelletier skaters getting ripped off by a bad French judge in Salt Lake City '02, Shaun "The Flying Tomato" White taking gold in a halfpipe in Turino '06, and Michael Phelps getting 14 gold medals in Athens '04 and Beijing '08. I don't think I'll ever stop watching the Games.
That's when I realized why I watch it. The other night, when Phelps was going for history in the 4 x 100 meter Medley Relay, after Jason Lezak held on to a half body length lead in the anchor to give Phelps his 8th straight gold medal in these Games, the broadcast showed a replay of LeBron James and Kobe Bryant in the stands. Did you watch them? Most famous athletes or Hollywood stars who've graced other sporting events don't cheer like these two did (namely, David Beckham in the Staples Center, or any famous person hiding out at an NHL game). They were kids.... just kids, screaming, cheering and almost leaping out of the stands in ecstasy from the achievement the world just witnessed in Phelps. I mean, did you see the hat LeBron was sporting? It reminded me of Scotty Smalls' enormous duck billed fishing hat from "The Sandlot." On top of that, Kobe asked for a picture with Phelps! When was the last time Kobe asked someone, or anyone, for a picture during his illustrious career?!
Ahh, the pureness of sport. I know money is involved in these Games after the Closing Ceremonies, and I'm sure Phelps will probably hit pay dirt enough to retire twice. However, in that moment, with two of the greatest players in the NBA, willed on a bunch of relatively unknown swimmers (save Phelps), who only get recognition every four years, to reach gold. They were proud that someone else accomplished something amazing. The Redeem Team itself is reforming its image and accomplishing pure basketball during these Games, taking out the "me first" image we have had pounded into our minds for so long. I was proud of watching three American women I've never heard of sweep the women's individual sabre in the first days of competition. I tuned in to watch two Americanized Chinese women compete in ping pong doubles late at night. Patriotism runs through everyone's veins. Everyone likes common ideals.
As I've grown up watching these Games, I also watched my close friends grow up. Why am I mentioning this? I feel like groups of friends have common goals, just like the United States is hoping to achieve gold. Some of my closest friends are pursuing an ultimate goal: to spread God's kingdom. I find myself cheering for them, just as much as LeBron and Kobe cheered on Phelps. One of my best friends will be heading to Holland for about 5 years in a few weeks, along with his wife and newborn son. As much as I love being around him, feeding off of his wisdom, and sharpening each other, I know in my heart that I will be his #1 fan during his tenure in Holland. I will cheer him and his family on as they plant a youth ministry in Amsterdam, and pray for him when they reach out to the lost.
I find that as Christians too often we look into ourselves, say "me first & gimme gimme," and say we love, cherish, and grow our faith when in reality we don't. We're like those seeds among the thorns. We're growing, but we're letting too many things hinder us from producing any fruit. The fruit that those athletes reap is the honor and respect they deserve for their hard work, their dedication to their sport, and the MANY sacrifices they've made to get there. I'm positive that Phelps sacrificed most of his teenage social life, and maybe some of his young adult life, to become the greatest in his sport. That's his fruit, and he deserves it.
As for those cheering on Phelps, they get the satisfaction that they supported, saw, and shared this experience with him and the world. They set aside everything they wanted, and for brief moments watched someone sacrifice everything to achieve this goal.
What would the world be like if we started setting aside our wants and desires? What if Christians in this country set aside the desires of the "American Dream," and started desiring Christ's desire to save those who are lost? As nations set aside their differences every four years (well, two years), they cheer on for the sake of sport. When will we set down our pride and lust for absolute dominance as "Christians" and just cheer on for the sake of God's kingdom ?