U.S. gymnast McKayla Maroney is the best female vaulter in the world. Her vault, the Amanar, has the highest degree of difficulty, by far, of any other vault attempted by her competitors. When she stuck the landing in the team competition and received less than perfect scores the commentators were stunned–both by her incomparable skill and the fact that points were deducted at all. She’s that good. Entering the individual competition on the vault all she needed to do was land on her feet and the gold medal was hers.
Her first vault, the Amanar, though not as perfect as the one she landed in the team competition positioned her far above the competition. Racing down the runway toward her second vault, a much less difficult vault, everyone knew she only needed to complete the vault, as she had done hundreds, if not thousands of times before, and she would reign as Olympic champion. Those who watched were stunned. Instead of standing tall reaching for the skies, she fell flat on her butt. Bitter disappointment was etched in her face as she received the silver, not the gold medal.
Athletic competition isn’t the best metaphor for life but if often reveals deep truths about us, our understanding of one another and of the faith. Some manifestations of Christianity live and die by that metaphor continually striving to win over others, to defeat the enemy, to conquer foes.
The Jesus I know and follow invites me to a different kind of life. Jesus invites me to give up my life in order to find it, to die to worldly fulfillment in order to live fully, to a life where the last will be first. Pretty radical, I know. Anti-culture, indeed.
Yet, it allows me to fall flat on my butt and not be seized by bitter disappointment having blown the expectations others place on me and I carry myself. Do I want to fall flat on my butt? No. Will I? Yes. With more practice will I reduce the likelihood of failure? Probably. Will I become perfect? Never.
Perfectionism is one of the great spiritual obstacles. In our minds we tell ourselves we cannot be perfect. In practice, we beat ourselves up when we fail as people, as parents, in relationships, in living. In that way of thinking, if we do not win, exceed expectations, prove ourselves, we must be losers.
Today, I’m grateful for a gracious God-a God who sees my imperfections and knows my inadequacies; a God who, if keeping score, would not even put me on the medal stand, but who, using the measure of grace, calls me loved.
It’s Monday. Chances are you will fall flat on your butt today, this week. When you do, recall the words spoken to Jesus in his baptism (from Eugene Peterson’s translation of the bible The Message): “You are my child, chosen and marked by my love, the pride of my life.” Place those words in a prominent place so you can reference them often. Better yet, memorize them. Make them part of who you are. Then, extend that grace to others. Peace. Kai