Mark Fairweather Tall
Falling towards God
Once every four years I get captivated by the astonishing spectacle of the Winter Olympics: There is the spectacular sight of ski jumpers launching themselves off a hill where the aim is not merely to survive but travel as far as possible; then there is the breath-taking lunacy of careering down a compacted ice tunnel head-first on something resembling a tray; and (I confess) my favourite, the frenzied sweeping of ice to control the curl and distance of the stone sliding along the ice towards the button in the house. As if all this is not enough, there are the sub-plots to follow as well: Would there be super-Saturday for Great Britain? Could Lizzie Yarnold become the first skeleton athlete to win successive Winter Games gold medals? Would the first Jamaican female Bobsleigh team be able to compete after their coach resigned and was reported to be taking the sled with her? (Maybe the sequel to ‘Cool Runnings’ has just been written) And then there is Elise Christie…
Has anyone ever had such a hard and emotional experience at the Winter Olympics as Elise Christie? Christie is a short-track speed skater from Scotland, who has been remarkably successful. She is a ten-time European gold medallist. In 2017 she won world titles at 1000m and 1500m events as well as the overall gold, the first British and European, woman to do so. However, when it comes to the Olympics things have not been good. Ben Bloom writing in the Daily Telegraph said: “the two most recent Olympics reads like the old rhyme about the fate of Henry VIII’s wives, only significantly simpler: disqualified, disqualified, disqualified, fell, disqualified, disqualified”. After a horrible fall in the 1500m event, we didn’t know whether she would be able to race in the 1000m. However, she took to the ice, fell before the first corner, causing the race to be restarted; qualified for the quarter finals, but was carried off the track in pain by her coach before being disqualified by the judges for causing a collision. It is heart wrenching stuff. Six Olympic events have all ended badly for her. So, I really admire her determination as she said: “I can promise Britain I’ll fight back from this…I just see it as three races that went rubbish in the last four years. Unfortunately, all three of them were here. It’s not because it’s an Olympics, but that’s short track and that’s the way it goes sometimes. I can’t let this define me. I can’t even count on two hands how many gold medals I’ve won since Sochi and I’m the 500m world record holder. I’m going to get myself so strong that I’ll get out in front and get away from everyone and that’ll be the focus. I’ll be back in Beijing (the next Winter Olympics in 2022)”.
She has fallen, broken the rules and been disqualified from races but she is determined to get back up and running again to win the prize! And this makes me reflect: Paul tells us, “There is no difference, for all have sinned and fall short of the glory of God” Romans 3:23. When it comes to living up to God’s glorious standards we fail, and we fall. Falling is as much a part of everyday life for us as it is in short track speed skating. Our falling short may come in thought, word or deed. The key is that we aren’t defined by the fall, but get up, set our eyes on God once more and get back on track.
There are things that can hinder us from getting up from a fall. Guilt may mean that we don’t feel worthy to get back up. What we have done just seems too bad and a sense of shame keeps us on the floor. Another response might be to try to justify our actions. Rudyard Kipling said, “I never made a mistake in my life; at least, never one that I couldn’t explain away afterwards.” We can justify ourselves by setting wrong standards or make excuses deep down we know aren’t true or even seek to shift the blame to others. The problem is that we are deceiving ourselves and not facing truth. We can also engage in comparison and comfort ourselves that whilst we may not be perfect others are far worse than we are. However, to do so hinders us as it doesn’t deal with the fact that we have fallen short of the glory of God.
Praise God, though, that Romans 3:23 is only half of the sentence. This is the sentence in full: “There is no difference, for all have sinned and fall short of the glory of God and are justified freely by his grace through the redemption that came by Jesus Christ.” Romans 3:23-24. In Lent we begin to look towards Good Friday and Easter Sunday, preparing ourselves and reflecting on all that this season means. As we do so, perhaps we can learn a lesson from Elise Christie. We may fall short of the glory of God, but do not need to be defined by this. Through Jesus we are redeemed, we can get back up, get on track and live for God once again. As we do so perhaps we can encourage one another on the way, cheering each other on to go further than ever before. I really hope Elise Christie makes it to Beijing in 2022. I hope then her story might encourage people to think, I may have fallen, I may deserve to be disqualified, but thank God for Jesus because I can run the race once more.