Watching the Olympics is, without a doubt, guaranteed to inspire. I’m forever moved by the enormous amount of faith and passion driving each athlete and the great triumph of courage, endurance and strength – often in the most impossible of circumstances.
In Rio 2016, there were countless moments where the Olympic spirit was on fire. However, for me, one event soars light years ahead of any other: the semi-final heat of the women’s 5,000m race. Shortly after the runners take off, our neighbour across the Tasman, Nikki Hamblin, stumbles and falls directly in the path of US track & field star, Abbey D’Agostino – who takes the unavoidable plunge to the ground. D’Agostino could have easily picked herself up, dusted herself off and powered through to the finish line, in the hope of securing a place in the finals – a place that she had no doubt been dreaming of, and training for, for many years. A place she may never reach again. The moment of truth: what does D’Agostino do?
Many times in our spiritual race, we are confronted with exactly this: having been made alive (Ephesians 2:1) and fit to run the race set out for us, through our actions or reactions, we all stumble and fall along the way, good as dead in our sins. However, just as God breathed life into Adam, the final breath that He took became the very hands that resuscitated our hearts. And nothing pleases Him more than to hear the rhythm of our heart beat as we run towards Him: the Way, and also, the destination.
But graced with this renewed life within us, are we stepping up to our full potential and eliminating the death that is around us? In striving for our crown, how many of us strive for our brothers and sisters to be crowned with us? Many of our fellow runners are struggling on the track; some are out of breath or burnt out and so have stopped running. Others have left the track altogether. Do we notice? If we do, do we know why they’re at that point? Better yet, do we run to their aid and help them back on their feet? I fear that sometimes we’re so focused on own hurdles in the race that we do not hear that small, still voice that pleads to our conscious asking “where is Abel your brother?” (Genesis 4:9) or “where is your sister?”
Instead of going for gold, D’Agostino’s first priority was the well-being of her fellow racer. She took Hamblin by the hand, helped her to her feet and then encouraged her to run together. What amazed me was not D’Agostino’s selflessness at such a critical time in her own journey (which is heroic on any level!) What blew my mind was how much her display of love was designed to bring relief and pleasure to another despite her own discomfort and pain (mind you, it was pain that that very person put her in!) I say this because literally a few seconds after she helped Hamblin up, D’Agostino’s knee gave way and she collapsed to the ground, having torn a ligament. She did not stop there: on the ground, D’Agostino urged Hamblin to race on and just let her be. Amazing, right?
Watching this made realised what St Paul may have meant when he said “Do you not know that those who run in a race all run, but one receives the prize?” (1 Corinthians 9:24). It is only love that receives the prize. Or, more accurately, Love is the prize! Because Love is the destination! And love is never inward looking. It is kind. It is liberating. It does not seek its own (1 Corinthians 13:5).
Often, it is this lack of focus on love that drives our siblings off the race track, or drives them to an injury from which they may never recover. So many of us have crossed continents to serve our brothers and sisters in poverty. But why are we leaving those closest to us in the deepest poverty? The poverty of love. In today’s ruthless, empty and aloof society, there is no greater need than genuine kindness and love. And these saints that we call our siblings come to His house for the same reason that we do: in search for His unconditional love and mercy; for acceptance into His royal family; to be a meaningful part of a Holy community. To see, and be seen as, the image of Christ.
Yet, some are greeted with an unwelcoming look, a judgmental comment or worse: not greeted at all. Many are made to feel uncomfortable, as though they do not belong. Many others are overloaded with burden and not offered the message of hope. In some cases, their calls for support fall on deaf ears. And so, many leave… and when they leave, do we seek them out? If we want to be fit enough to sprint towards our finish line, we must strive to take the full body of Christ with us.
As Mother Theresa once said,
“Stay where you are. Find your own Calcutta. Find the sick, the suffering, and the lonely right there where you are — in your own homes and in your own families, in your workplaces and in your schools. You can find Calcutta all over the world, if you have the eyes to see. Everywhere, wherever you go, you find people who are unwanted, unloved, uncared for, just rejected by society —completely forgotten, completely left alone.”
Just as we sink deep into the love of Our Father as He runs to us on our return when we’re ‘still a great way off’ (Luke 15:20), we must run with His grace in our hearts and reach out to our siblings in love, no matter the distance or difficulty. For when we make every effort to find them and love them, we find Christ (Matthew 25:40).
At other times in our race, we seem to have the best intentions – focusing on our prayers, fasts and our own relationship with God, and justifying this by saying “I’m spiritually weak so how can I assist the drowning if I don’t know how to swim?” But, through weakness, didn’t Christ show us what is greater than strength? And hasn’t He taught us that putting in all that we have (even if it is little) is greater in His eyes than offering much out of abundance? (Mark 12:42-44). All that we have may be a warm smile; an encouraging or uplifting word; a welcoming hug; a simple prayer. But all that we have is enough. Because it is love, and love never fails (1 Corinthians 13:8).
When D’Agostino collapsed to the ground, this time it was Hamblin who came to the rescue, helping her fellow racer off the ground. Although D’Agostino was seriously injured, she was not defeated. She was determined to make it to the finish line, even if it meant she’d limp all the way there. And the result? An honorary place in the finals. Later, each D’Agostino and Hamblin were awarded the rarest of all Olympic medals: the Pierre de Coubertin medal, which only 17 others have received in the entire history of the Olympics.
Similarly, although “narrow is the gate and difficult is the way which leads to life, and there are few who find it” (Matthew 7:14), the Kingdom of Heaven is in our hands and together, we can reach the gold that ‘eye has not seen, nor ear heard’ (1 Corinthans 2:9).
Like an Olympian, our fearless faith and passion must drive us. We must train for that unfailing strength and power of love in order to gain life. And remember, we have already been made alive. But do our hearts hear Him ask “where is Abel your brother?” or “where is your sister?” And if we answer that call, how many of us will say that we have been our brother or sister’s keeper? How many of us will be the defibrillator that carries Christ’s electrifying love within us, sharing that life with all those around us?
How many will urge our siblings up onto their feet, allow them to lift us to ours and encourage each other to race together towards Love?
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“Let all that you do be done with love.” (1 Corinthians 16:14).
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“Beloved, let us love one another, for love is of God; and everyone who loves is born of God and knows God… If we love one another, God abides in us, and His love has been perfected in us” (1 John 4:7, 12).
SAYG ~ Jackie Ibrahim.