Last night, I watched my television in utter disbelief as track-and-field star LoLo Jones stumbled and fell in the '08 Olympic finals of the 100-meter hurdles.
My heart ached for this American athlete who was heavily favored to win this race and whose back story could probably be a movie-of-the-week (raised by a single mother and moving from apartment to apartment with four other siblings throughout her life; they even lived in a church basement for a while).
Here, in less than 60 seconds, her years of practice and training and strict eating requirements meant nothing. Her goal was in sight, but a collision with the 10th barrier caused her to stumble and fall short of first place. She ended up crossing the finish line in 7th place.
At that moment, I wondered what was going through LoLo’s mind. She collapsed to the racetrack and got on her knees. With her hands on her head, I’m sure she must have thought: This isn’t the way it was supposed to happen!
All of the preparation, all of the strategy, all of the expectations—it meant nothing at all at that point. But apparently, this was what was supposed to happen.
Had I my own children or had my teenaged niece and nephew been watching with me, I would have discussed this incident with them. I’m sure we would have tossed around questions such as …Why did God allow this to happen to her? Does she have a right to be upset or angry? Should she give up or keep trying and hold out hopes for the 2012 Olympics? What would you do if something you had worked so hard for just slipped through your fingers? How should we respond to loss and dissapointment in our lives? What is the right attitude to have?
Later in the broadcast, the television cameras caught a shot of LoLo leaning against the wall underneath the stands, crying her eyes out. It was a private moment that definitely showed the agony of defeat. I winced a little and thought perhaps I shouldn’t be seeing this personal scene. But it reminded me that we are all human. We are not machines. We feel and we hurt and we must process what obstacles and defeats come our way, whether in an Olympic race or in everyday life. Our tears and our audible cries help us to do that. It is a natural expression.
Other athletes in the ’08 Olympics have tasted defeat or eventual outcomes that probably weren’t what they thought was supposed to happen either: Nastia Liukin "tying" another gymnast’s score but still not winning the gold medal in the uneven bars; Sanya Richards not winning the gold in the 400-meter race for which she was the favorite.
Thanks to television, we’re given a very up-close-and-personal look at these athletes and their responses to dissapointments in competition—whether it makes us uncomfortable or not. And I think it’s only natural that we, the spectators, want to process these feelings and situations as well. What would we do? How would we respond? And what can we learn?
First, we can take comfort in the fact that world-class athletes are human, just like you and me. They must deal with loss and dashed expectations, too. We are not alone in this regard.
Also, we have the power to control how we respond in these situations. Will we choose to learn from loss or will we become bitter and point the finger of blame or responsibility at anything or anyone else? Will we respond with dignity and class or will we lower ourselves to a victim’s-mentality level?
In some cases in life, it really just doesn't feel fair. You may have done everything possible, gone the extra mile, dotted all the i’s and crossed all the t’s … and still, still it’s not good enough. And you don’t “win” or achieve the outcome you were working toward and thought would happen.
Sanya Richards, who had the third fastest time in the world and the second fastest in the field before her 400-m race, had only 80 meters left to go when a hamstring cramp slowed her down. As she rounded the final curve, her course was unexpectedly changed. And her destiny was forever altered.
Afterward, she said this regarding her botched attempt for the gold: “… I feel like everything happens for a reason. I just don’t know what this one is … I don’t know what lesson I have left to learn.”
No blaming. No finger-pointing. No cursing. Just questioning. And hurting. Why? And how? And what am I supposed to do now?
What better response can any of us have to dissappointment in life? Yes, our hearts will break, but we need to keep them open and ready to receive whatever instruction is coming from the Lord. What do you want me to learn from this loss in my life? How can I be an example to others of your goodness and faithfulness to me despite this heartache?
It’s not easy to rally back when something happens that makes you say: “This isn’t the way it was supposed to happen!” But I think it’s this time of response to whatever God wants to teach us and work out in our lives that is what is most important.
Later on, as time has passed and hopefully some wounds have begun to heal, perhaps then we can look back and say: “This is exactly what was supposed to happen. Thank you, Lord, for carrying me through. I will boast in my weakness and delight in your strength. You are my God and my rock. You are working in me! And in you, I will put my trust.”
We are hard pressed on every side, but not crushed; perplexed, but not in despair; persecuted, but not abandoned; struck down, but not destroyed. …
Therefore, we do not lose heart. Though outwardly we are wasting away, yet inwardly we are being renewed day by day. For our light and momentary troubles are achieving for us a glory that far outweighs them all. So we fix our eyes not on what is seen, but on what is unseen. For what is seen is temporary, but what is unseen is eternal.
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