On the Olympics, Parenting, and Our Identity

The Olympics are over now and I’m a bit aimless, wondering what I’m going to do with myself now that I don’t have a high intensity sporting event to watch every night of the week. My husband reminds me that college football is coming, but to me, it’s just not the same. The Olympics are my thing, as you probably already can tell.

Daniel likened my post-Olympics letdown to coming home from the high of church camp. We all had a good couple of weeks, watching with friends, texting about results, interacting on social media, and now we have to go back to real life, with real bedtimes, and even worse, a real election that is coming whether we like it or not.

The Olympics and all they brought with them were not real life, but they allowed us to forget real life for a moment. They allowed us to enter a world where the nations gather together, excellence is prized, and people finish and win the race. One former Olympian said it feels a little bit like heaven. Maybe it does, I don’t know. But I do know that while I am not alone in my post-Olympic hangover, it’s actually much harder, and much more serious for the athletes.

The Atlantic published an article last week on the rates of depression in athletes following the Olympic games. The basic premise is that all of the hype, all of the training, all of the fame and glory that surrounds these events can lead to a serious emotional letdown once everyone boards a plane back to their ordinary, normal lives. Couple that with the overwhelming ambition that drives so many of these athletes, and depending on the outcome of their events, they could even be dealing with serious disappointment about their failure to live up to their own ambition and hype.

All joking aside about my own sadness over the games ending, as the article points out, this letdown is not simply isolated to former Olympic athletes. It can happen after you graduate from college, after you publish a book or accomplish a major life goal, or even after your kids have grown and gone.

That last reality hit Daniel and me pretty close to home as we reflected on this article last week. We are in the thick of the little years with our kids. There is no getting around the fact that three kids ages three and under are all consuming and often utterly exhausting. It’s like our own personal Olympic training, one where our “event” will soon be over and we will be left wondering what the next step of our lives should be.

The Atlantic article ended by saying the best way to avoid the crash that comes after competing at the Olympics is to have a plan post-Olympics. In other words, make a life beyond your sport. I like how diver David Boudia said it after his springboard competition, “my identity is in Christ, not my sport.”

This is a good word for any of us who are tempted to find our identity in anything other than the Christ who never changes, never fades away, and never loses his glory and wonder. Athletes age and are no longer able to compete, but Christ remains strong and faithful. Children get older and no longer need us as much, but Christ remains true and is all we need. Careers may crash in an instant, but Christ is steadfast and constant. An author’s book may go out of print or never reach another reader, but Christ’s righteousness in us stays the same. We are not defined by any feat we accomplish, even if it does bring us joy and earthly glory.

The cure for any letdown we feel, whether it is post-Olympics or post-child rearing years, is to have a plan, yes. But it is also to have a Savior who keeps us to the end and doesn’t need our accomplishments. He simply wants our worship and our faithful stewardship of the gifts he has given us. So we move on to the next thing in our life, whether it is a new stage of parenting or a new career, God gets glory when we find our identity in him alone—and we get all the joy.