Gymnastics and the Kingdom of God Part 1

11 08 2008

When I was a 9th grader in high school, I watched the summer Olympics on TV.  I began watching the basketball, weight lifting, and track and field; all the same competitions that I had watched in the previous years.  But, one night I missed a listing and ended up seeing the gymnastics competition.  I had never seen a gymnastics meet before.  I was mesmerized and awestruck by the combination of such beauty, grace, and power.  The raw strength synergized with the elegant flow of the body in such graceful movements to produce such stunning beauty captured my heart.  My heart was moved and challenged by the controlled athleticism of these gymnasts. 

A few weeks later, there was an announcement in our high school news of the forming of a boy’s gymnastics team.  I went out for the team and the path of my sports career dramatically changed from that day forward.  Never again would I set foot on a baseball diamond or football field again.  My heart was hooked on gymnastics and my life was forever altered by that choice.

You might say that gymnastics changed my life.  For the next eight years, throughout high school and into college I competed as a gymnast.  Those years brought some of the most exciting and painful times of my life.  I experienced great triumph and deep agony as I struggled to be the best at a sport that is both terrifically rewarding when a routine is perfected, but tortuously unforgiving with even the slightest imperfection.

My life was altered by gymnastics, not only because of the victories and defeats of the sport itself, but also by an injury that I thought at the time would end my career.  It was my freshman year at the University of Georgia, and I was the first male gymnast in the history of the school to win a full athletic scholarship—so the personal pressure was immense.  In just the second week of practice, while completing a full twist back somersault on the floor exercise, I landed slightly off and severely dislocated my left knee.  It would take weeks to examine and figure out what had happened to the knee, but in the meantime I was on crutches and fearful of the future.

It was during this time of anxiety that a campus minister shared with me about the potential of a personal love relationship with God through Jesus Christ.  He shared with me that Jesus Christ loved me and had an incredible plan for my life.  He showed me from the Bible that if I would surrender my life into the loving arms of Jesus, He would take it and transform me from the inside out with the Kingdom of God.  And just like that first viewing of the gymnasts in the Olympics many years before, my heart was captured.  I was fascinated by the forgiving, uncompromising, and eternal love of God.  The stunning reality of what Jesus did for me on the cross—laying down His life for me, to forgive me of my sin, and form His life within me, revolutionized my thinking and enraptured my heart.

As I surrendered my life to Christ and His kingdom, it was like God was taking me through heart surgery—with me as the patient and He as the Physician.  Like a patient on the operating table, the Holy Spirit opened up my sin damaged heart and began to heal it with His loving hands.  It was as if God took the scalpel of His Word and began to cut into the sin and selfishness of my life.  I could feel the hands of the Great Physician simultaneously cutting and healing my heart. It seemed that I was regularly broken up over my arrogance and joyful over His forgiveness.

I can still recall walking to biology class one day and being suddenly overwhelmed by the love of the Father.  Like some kind of liquid love, God just poured into me an experience of His agape (sacrificial, caring) love that revolutionized my heart.  Like honey from heaven, I could feel His unconditional love being released into my spirit.  As I looked around at the trees, flowers, sky, and people all around me, I found myself just wanting to leap for joy and shout to anyone who would listen, that “God loves me!”

And so began my journey into the kingdom of God and gymnastics.  As I took those embryonic steps into the kingdom, my gymnastics career continued.  But the flame for my sport that I had once known as primary, was soon relegated to a secondary position.  My passion for Jesus had taken over and I found myself in a new journey of desire that fascinated my heart and inflamed my spirit.  Gymnastics would never again have the same appeal.  It had been replaced by a new life and a new purpose.

But now, as I look back upon those earlier times, what did God teach me about Himself and His kingdom through gymnastics?  Why did the Lord give me both a passion for this sport and a passion for Him? I can see in retrospect many powerful truths about the kingdom of God learned through the sport of gymnastics.  These truths and passions from gymnastics helped form the kingdom of God in my heart…

Watch for Steve’s next “inkling” in a week:  The Kingdom of God and Gymnastics part II