This is how we know that we belong to the truth and how we set our hearts at rest in his presence: If our hearts condemn us, we know that God is greater than our hearts, and he knows everything.
-1 John 3:19-20
Snowboarder Nick Baumgartner has been to four Olympic Games, a truly incredible feat. In his final games, he has been shooting for his first medal. But near the end of his quarterfinal snowboard cross race last week, he took the last turn a little wide, causing him to get passed and knocking him out of the competition.
In the immediate post race interview, you could see the emotion welling up in his eyes. "I put so much time and effort and then one little mistake and it's gone," Baumgartner shares. "I got so much support back home and I feel like I let them down. This one stings. This one hurts."
What an extraordinary load to bear! The reporter stands there silently, uncomfortable. But when you interview someone in that moment, this is pretty much what you're looking for, isn't it? To show the world the pain of not living up to expectations?
She finally makes a little statement about how she's sure his family is proud of him. It's nice. But he has the last word, and it's to his son as his voice breaks. "Landon, I love you. I'm so sorry, buddy."
Wow, I'm impressed with such honest on television. What a glimpse of raw humanity. But it was also beyond heartbreaking to hear a father apologize to his son for letting him down by not winning a gold medal. That was almost too much for me to handle, as I considered this heavy link between external performance and disappointing loved ones. And even if he succeeded, then it's just someone else who would be dealing with that sinking feeling of letting everybody down. It’s brutal.
For years we’ve seen this on the highest level of athletic competitions. Brilliant athletes experience so much external pressure that some have even withdrawn from their competition before it started because their mental health was deteriorating so rapidly.
So much pressure. Value and performance, forever linked.
I’m a competitor, and I understand (to a small extent) feeling pressure and expectations. It’s natural. But we see this linkage of accomplishment and value as a recurring theme in everyday life as well.
Maybe that’s why the recent Disney movie Encanto has struck a cord with millions of people recently. The main character’s sister, Luisa, sings a brutally honest song about feeling like her worth is tied to holding the family together by meeting every need and fixing every problem. She is terrified and overwhelmed by the pressure to live up to expectations, yet she knows no way out. It’s an arrestingly honest song that gives voice to what millions of people are feeling “under the surface” every day. The pressure is just too much.
Views about humanity often flow from views about God. If there’s a sense that we have to live up to God’s expectations in order to be worthy of love, we will transmit that understanding to our relationships, expecting perfection and accomplishment for ourselves and those around us, whether we would ever say it that way or not.
And as a result, no one feels good enough. Ever.
We have a worldwide deficit of grace.
I don’t know how many times it needs repeating in our lives before we grasp the good news that God has bestowed worth and value and love on us, regardless of what we accomplish or how good we are. Yes, we want to be better people all the time and accomplish meaningful things, and of course we don't want to fail. But in healthy discipleship, the desires to do and be better flow out of a foundation of belovedness, not an attempt to gain beloved status. And that’s a game changer.
By the way— a couple of days ago Baumgartner got a final chance in the mixed snowboard cross event, and won a dramatic gold with his female partner. It was amazing to hear him screaming for her as she slid down the course. She won, but I couldn’t help but believe that if she had stumbled in her final meters, he would eagerly have extended grace to her. Maybe more easily than himself?
As we progress in our experience and relationship with Jesus, may we be as gentle on ourselves as we desire to be toward others. Because Jesus has gone before us, and God has promised to set our hearts at rest, even when we don’t feel good enough. Let’s be people of faith who believe that truth for ourselves and for our neighbors, today. The pressure is off. The tomb is empty. Live at peace, and love well.
Jesus, you set my heart and soul at rest. Help me live deeply out of that grace.