Michael Phelps, Jesus, and You

Jennifer Maggio

                Along with millions of others, I sat in my living room last night and watched Michael Phelps secure his 24th Olympic Medal. I watched in awe and he sped through the water with determination and grit. I thought of the years of commitment that it took to get to where he is, and I was reminded of an article I recently read about his life. I love a great, tear-jerking, story. And there has been no shortage of them at the Rio Olympics. I love the backstory, how someone arrived at their destination, what it meant to their family, those who sacrificed for the athlete, and the journey behind the journey.

                I recently read a lengthy article online about Michael Phelps that tracked is long and successful career in swimming. It also detailed much of his personal life and the challenges he has had with substance abuse and depression. The article detailed a phone call that Michael had with his manager (or trainer), where he talked about being completely overwhelmed with life, the demands on his life, and the pressures that come with being Michael Phelps. It even explained that at one point he thought it was better to die than live feeling the way he did. There’s much to the story and you can read about Michael’s tremendous journey in many other places online.  But as I sat last night in extreme jubilation of his ability to bring home the gold, yet again, for Team USA, I thought of all the things we can learn from  his journey that zero to do with swimming.

  1. When we fail (and we will), keep going. It is so much fun to win – win at sports, ministry, life, in general. But there’s something to be said for losing. It teaches us humility, respect for preparation, the value of hard work, perseverance, and so much more. Learn to lose well.
  2. Mistakes are worth making. There have been countless times in my life when I’ve made a complete mess of things. But as I look back over my life, and the many, many mistakes I’ve made, I know that I wouldn’t be who I am without those mistakes. I wouldn’t have learned to depend on Jesus without them. I wouldn’t have seen God’s miracles without them. I wouldn’t appreciate my friends, had I not once been friendless. I wouldn’t appreciate financial stability, had I not once been homeless. I wouldn’t know the glory of God in the way I do now, had I not been hopeless and lost.
  3. Your past isn’t your future. Michael Phelps actually competed in prior Olympic years and didn’t place at all. It’s hard to believe now, isn’t it? But imagine what he felt like, at that time, as he stood and watched others with the medal around their neck, being heralded the best in the world, while he seethed with disappointment. God knows the plans he has for us, to give us bright futures, and hope-filled days. (See Jeremiah 29:11). But it doesn’t mean that we won’t go through some disappointment and hardships and mistakes. Maybe you are walking through disappointment, right now. Maybe someone is excelling where you are failing. Maybe you see someone getting married, while you are single, yet…another…year. I don’t know where you are, but I know if you’re still breathing, God’s not finished with you yet, and He has things he wants to do through you and for you. It doesn’t matter where you came from or what you’ve done, he loves you.
  4. Jesus is the only answer! At his lowest point, Michael had family, friends, fans, fame, and fortune, and it simply wasn’t enough. He was depressed, overwhelmed, stressed, and unsure of his future.  Many times, we think that if we only that thing, life would be perfect, easier, or more meaningful. And that thing varies from person to person – money, spouse, fame, children, prestige, etc. --- but the results are always the same. Yes, life is easier with more money, but it doesn’t complete us. Yes, marriage can be great joy and a blessing from the Lord, but it can also be devastatingly hard.  Kids are a great joy, but are hard work and can be our greatest pain. Everything leaves us empty, when we don’t have Jesus. And the longer I live for the Lord, the more convinced I am of my need for him.


Jennifer Maggio is an author of four books, speaker, mom, wife, and founder of The Life of a Single Mom Ministries. She has been featured in hundreds of media venues, including The New York Times, Focus on the Family, Daystar Television, Power Women, and more. She is passionate about encouraging the body of Christ to change the world, one person at a time. For more information, visit