Where seldom is heard an encouraging word

Olympics-2012Much has been said about the poor performance of our athletes at this year’s Olympics. Much is also being said about the poor performance of our journalists. Much more could also be said about our poor performance as a nation. There’s something ugly in our psyche.

Before our athletes even arrived in London, they were already champions. After all, how many people get to represent their country? When someone misses out on a medal does that make them a failure? Is a silver medal really code for ‘number one loser’? How stupid to push a microphone in an athlete’s face and say ‘you must be so disappointed’. Where’s the applause, the celebration, the encouragement?

Our behaviour as a nation is not something to be applauded. We carry on as though a lack of medals is a personal affront to our dignity as Aussies. What gave us the right to gold medals? To any medals? What exactly have we done? As we sit on the couch, and whinge and moan, how much training have we put in? How did we contribute? What sacrifices did we make?

Sadly, I’ve seen this same attitude on the sidelines watching kids’ sports. The coach who yells abuse at his team. The parents who criticise their children for making mistakes or simply failing to win. I’ve seen the tears in the eyes of the children. Their heads hung low. The lesson we teach is that you’re only worthwhile if you win. And I can only be somebody when you win for me. How wrong is that! How crass! How selfish! How demeaning! How discouraging!

We’re all flawed human beings. We need to own up to our own failures and weaknesses. Once we recognise our own shortcomings we’ll begin to learn to treat others with dignity and grace. A little humility will go a long way.

If I’m going to be honest, then I must confess that I see this same selfish spirit of discouragement in myself. My shortcomings are huge and my failures are many. And yet I can testify to the grace of God towards me. His word to me is one of encouragement. He builds me up rather than cutting me down. The Bible reminds me that God has reached out to me while I was a failure (Romans 3:23-24). Christ died for me while I was a rebel (Romans 5:8). God reconciled me to himself while I was his enemy (Romans 5:10). I’m so grateful to God that I don’t get what I deserve. Grace is an awesome thing. God’s grace is immeasurable.

There is a saying that says “There but for the grace of God go I.” How true it is! Left to my own resources I will mess up, fail, disappoint, and look to lay the blame on others.

Thank you God, that you don’t treat me as I deserve.
Please remind me of your grace. Please fill me with humility. Please enable me to build up rather than tear down. Please make my lips an instrument of blessing and encouragement, rather than discouragement and blame.

4 thoughts on “Where seldom is heard an encouraging word”

  1. Thanks Dave.
    As long as we define ourselves as a nation on the international stage by sporting success then individual athletes performance is a means to the end of our collective ego. When they win we win. But if they lose (or get silver) then its not just about them – its about us & who we are. And it feels like we’re not really secure enough as a nation to handle anything but gold gold gold!

  2. Do you really think there’s seldom heard an encouraging word, Dave? I wouldn’t think so.

    Of course “You must be so disappointed” is a dumb interview gambit. But it’s like too much so-called journalism today: ask a closed question that forces the conversation into a pre-determined path. Yet, by and large, I reckon the moments of pressure on sports people are outweighed by hours of fawning.

    To ask critical questions is not the same as finding our identity in sport. Personally, I sense that Australians are less dependent on sport for national identity.

    I was impressed by the comments of Anna Meares after her win overnight. She seems ready for a mature two-way discussion between public & athletes: “We know we haven’t performed to the expectation the Australian public want from our athletes and feel they deserve for the amount of time, effort and money that have been put in to the programmes.” (From http://goo.gl/XI3tZ)

    Ultimately, even with applause, celebration & encouragement, sport will still be opposite to the gospel (as also is business, or education, or art). All these are fields of achievement – not grace. You are in because you are good enough. Therefore every discussion, by definition, includes the undertone of ‘Are you good enough?’

    How wonderful is grace!

  3. Chris, thanks for your counterpoint. I think the journalists have improved significantly over the course of the games.
    I recognise that for the athletes we are talking about personal achievement. However, for the supporters our ‘failures’ or ‘successes’ are vicarious. Criticism seemed to be flowing from a sense of entitlement.
    I think the focus on a medal tally board is a problem. It leads us to measure ourselves by other countries rather than focusing on the athletes’ personal efforts and achievements.
    Of course, all I’m saying is overstatement. There are many examples of gracious encouraging behaviour from the Aussie public!

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