Beyond doping to the promise of spiritual strength and power

As an increasing number of high-profile athletes are linked to performance-enhancing drugs—such as track star Marion Jones, who this past winter was sentenced to jail and required to forfeit the five medals she won at the 2000 Sydney Olympics—the issue of doping raises important questions not only for the sports world, but for society in general. People have been educated to look to drugs for everything from better concentration in school to better romantic lives. So it's not surprising that athletes are turning to drugs to enhance their performance. Many top athletes, especially those in highly paid sports, face in tense pressure to succeed—not only psychologically, but financially as well. They stand to lose a lot materially—six-figure salaries, in some cases—if they don't perform up to expectations. Often influenced by others' examples or advice, even the best-intentioned athletes sometimes succumb and use banned performance-enhancing drugs.

But the purpose and value of competition isn't really about getting a six-figure salary, although it's often presented in those terms. In my career as an international cross-country ski racer, I found athletics to be an exhilarating arena for overcoming bodily and mental limitations. The Olympic motto—"Faster, higher, stronger"—points to this goal of consistent striving. Note that it's not fastest, highest, strongest—i.e., who is better than anyone else. Rather, it's a standard that encourages each athlete to continually push the envelope of what seems possible, and break down the barriers of fear, pain, and finite being.

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The best example of doing this comes from a man who isn't exactly known for heaving javelins skyward or wowing spectators with his butterfly stroke. But Jesus is the ultimate example of someone who overcame the limitations of matter, for he triumphed over the greatest one of all—death.

Interestingly, Jesus was faced with essentially the same temptation that is at the root of doping today.

At the outset of his ministry, the Bible tells us, Jesus was led into the wilderness where he was tempted three times by the devil. After he refuted the first two temptations, the devil took him up "an exceeding high mountain, and sheweth him all the kingdoms of the world, and the glory of them; and saith unto him, All these things will I give thee, if thou wilt fall down and worship me" (Matt. 4:8, 9).

Isn't that exactly the temptation athletes face? "If you'll just admit that you're nothing more than a physiological machine, and that you need the help of material substances to succeed," this adversarial voice promises, "then I'll give you everything you want—joy, satisfaction, glory, wealth, freedom from pressure, and an invincible sense of self-worth."

That may sound like a pretty good deal, but is it for real? Can drugs really bring those things into one's life in a permanent and lasting way? Jesus' denunciation of the third temptation provides an unequivocal answer. He said, "Get thee hence, Satan: for it is written, Thou shalt worship the Lord thy God, and him only shalt thou serve" (Matt. 4:10). He knew the true source of power.

This declaration doesn't mean that the good one hopes to achieve through athletics or any other form of excellence needs to be given up or that training and practice are useless. Rather, understanding one's relationship to God and one's genuine spirituality, is the key to finding joy, peace, unbounded love, and abundant good. This is the true substance behind Olympic gold.

For what is the real satisfaction behind endorsements, fame, and the achievement of a lifelong dream? Is fame enjoyable if one doesn't feel truly loved? To discover more and more of one's spiritual nature as one draws closer to God actually enhances one's talents and enables one to overcome material limitations more readily.

The purpose and value of competition isn't really about getting a six-figure salary, although it's often presented in those terms.

Achieving true excellence doesn't allow for half-way measures, however. The way to avail oneself of these qualities, as Jesus so unequivocally stated, is by serving God alone. No other power can provide lasting good. One experiences the fullness of this good in proportion as one looks to God as its source—undistracted from the thousands of false promises of good that may be offered by the tempter.

The Bible reveals man—meaning the children of God, both men and women—as fully satisfied and conscious of his inherent worth and value to God. It affirms the perfection of God's entire creation, a point brought out in the first chapter of Genesis. And it assures us that our spiritual identity and purpose in life meet the highest standard possible—infinite perfection.

This statement from Psalms expresses beautifully what athletes are doing when they recognize a higher power as impelling their performance: "I will praise thee; for I am fearfully and wonderfully made: marvellous are thy works; and that my soul knoweth right well" (Ps. 139:14).

When athletes choose to use performance-enhancing drugs, however, they are forfeiting this divine basis of perfection. Despite all their effort, dedication, and discipline to break down limitation, they are actually submitting to it rather than conquering it. This impedes the realization of the joy, fulfillment, wealth, and self-worth that belong to each individual as the image of God.

The solution lies in the wonderful, reassuring truth that God is satisfied with His creation—and that as His likeness, we each reflect that satisfaction.

Mary Baker Eddy revealed this spiritual fact in Science and Health: "Deity was satisfied with His work. How could He be otherwise, since the spiritual creation was the outgrowth, the emanation, of His infinite self-containment and immortal wisdom? ...

"Thus the ideas of God in universal being are complete and forever expressed, for Science reveals infinity and the fatherhood and motherhood of Love" (p. 519).

This clear understanding that God made His creation perfect, and that man forever reflects and glorifies this perfection, guarantees each of us satisfaction, joy, fulfillment, and prosperity whether or not we win an Olympic medal. And this satisfaction is permanent because it rests on the goodness of Spirit, not on reliance on matter. As the Bible puts it: "I know that, whatsoever God doeth, it shall be for ever: nothing can be put to it, nor any thing taken from it" (Eccl. 3:14).

A Christlike comprehension of God as the ever-available source of good enables individuals—whether athletes, coaches, spouses, businessmen, or presidents—to realize that the good they seek is theirs already because they are beloved of the Lord and because He made each of them perfect.

By supporting the inherent innocence, wisdom, strength, and discipline of Olympic athletes, the readers of this magazine can elevate not only the Games themselves, but every sphere of human experience in which these qualities are required and tested. CSS

August 4, 2008

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