If you operate in the track and field world, you know this: 2016 is defined by the Olympic Games. Some athletes are eating, sleeping, and dreaming OLYMPICS. Nothing else matters. This time 2 years ago, I would have wished that was me. I would have wanted people to say “that girl is so focused- nothing can distract her from track and field. Nothing.” This may sound undedicated or unpassionate, but here it is: I’ve been freed from that! (It’s an ongoing battle) I’ve been saved from the mind-trap where striving overpowers joy.
22 What do mortals get from all the toil and strain with which they toil under the sun? 23 For all their days are full of pain, and their work is a vexation; even at night their minds do not rest. This also is vanity.
24 There is nothing better for mortals than to eat and drink, and find enjoyment in their toil. This also, I saw, is from the hand of God; 25 for apart from him who can eat or who can have enjoyment? 26 For to the one who pleases him God gives wisdom and knowledge and joy; but to the sinner he gives the work of gathering and heaping, only to give to one who pleases God. This also is vanity and a chasing after wind.
“Toil. Strain. Minds do not rest.” Check, check, check. Do more, work harder, less rest… This basically was my life moto. It was my idea of “the disciplined athlete”. It was rigid- and it became more rigid as time went on- and if I messed up there was no forgiveness. My satisfaction came from “doing more” or “doing it better” (faster workouts, stricter diet, less social time”) and it was temporarily reinforced by success…PRs, medals, praise and recognition. Trapped! When I was young, track success was a bonus to the joy I had in the relationships with fellow teammates, coaches, competitors. Then track success became a greater want. Eventually, track success became a need and my “joy” came from perfectly executing warm-up, running workouts, recovery methods, dieting/body weight, sleep, reading about the sport, etc. When it wasn’t perfectly executed the result was guilt until I could overcompensate. How empty to claim joy as avoidance of guilt! So why did I do this? Why so rigid? Because my want overpowered my love…
10 The lover of money will not be satisfied with money; nor the lover of wealth, with gain. This also is vanity.
So am I calling the Olympic dream a vanity? No way! It’s true that we take nothing with us out of this world… that means not even the status of OLYMPIAN or the status of ATHLETE or any winnings for that matter. But God did assign us all a task and told us to do them “heartily as to the Lord”. His gift to us is the power to take pleasure in and enjoy our toil. How? By having good purpose. When our motivations are prideful (or for recognition/status), is there really enjoyment in the toil? When the thought of not achieving the goal causes you to sin, are we really enjoying the process at all? We all have toil- our days are meant to stay busy, but where is your heart? Does it recognize that all you could possibly gain is only temporary? Do you know that our days on earth are short? Strain and strife and stress are not from God… peace and love and joy are from God. Take a deep look at your life- what is really defining it? So like I said, the Olympic dream isn’t the vanity, but the motivation behind it may be.
10 Whatever your hand finds to do, do with your might
So maybe you relate to my story and you have a sense of emptiness in the midst of your goal-chasing. Ready for the practical key to finding enjoyment in your toil? Hah… me too. I don’t have the answer. I just know that some days it’s a battle to keep my eyes on the greater purpose rather than my fleshly desires to make everything a competition. Every morning I need to pray for the discernment between working hard and spinning my wheels in strife. When I’m anxious, unforgiving, or unloving, I know I need to check myself. When my work is worship, I’m not chasing wind. I can say this- it wasn’t my will to ever discover that my rigidity actually wasn’t enjoyable. I felt defined by and proud of everything I was willing to give up in order to achieve my goal. In fact, my first lingering injury threw me into all kinds of emotional turmoil. It forced me to loosen up on my rigid habits and for the first time consider that this isn’t what life is all about. Meanwhile, God was working out a few other situations too… 1. A move to Phoenix which resulted in meeting people who encouraged a peace-seeking perspective. 2. Financial stress resulting in a high school coaching job and a whole new understanding of loving others. 3. A friendship (with Kyle) being transformed into true love.
I hope this blog leaves you with 3-lasting thoughts: First, Life is meant to be enjoyed and the ability to do that is gifted from God. Second, if you are struggling to find joy rather than strife, check yourself at a heart level. The circumstance doesn’t make you a certain way (anxious vs peaceful), but when you identify your worth by a specific task, it becomes difficult to enjoy your God-given duties! Finally, a circumstance that appears disastrous may actually be one that improves you!
Are you spinning your wheels, striving for perfection and coming up feeling empty? Are you chasing after a greater purpose or are you chasing wind? It’s easy to hide the answer from yourself. Which doors are God opening for you to change your heart’s attitude? So friends, work hard at loving others in whatever job/task/toil/duty you do!
18 This is what I have seen to be good: it is fitting to eat and drink and find enjoyment in all the toil with which one toils under the sun the few days of the life God gives us; for this is our lot.