There seem to have been an abundance of sports days in my world this year; key stage 1 and key stage 2 at primary, playgroup and then last week the two at secondary school had theirs! We also held the inaugural ‘Refresh Tots’ sports day! They all seemed to pass without too much drama, although I never did get to the bottom of why the ambulance was at the secondary school?! Across the board the adults involved did a great job of including everyone without letting it become too competitive, well at least from my families perspective of it all!
I don’t remember my school sports days particularly positively. I recall feeling as though I’d like the ground to swallow me as I trailed behind everyone else with the finishing line taking an eternity to reach. I still shrink back from anything competitive now, probably out of that haunting fear of failure rather than a genuine non-competitive soul!
It seems that, no matter how inclusive the events seem to be, sports day evokes some level of competition and comparison. I always knew I wasn’t as fast as, well, anyone…but especially the tall blonde girl who was good at everything (EVERYTHING!!) I would be crazy to think my children aren’t aware of their strengths and weaknesses and those of the others around them. That’s ok, normal, even healthy…most of the time!
There are times though as we navigate life where our ability to compare and compete becomes unhealthy and consuming. Sometimes it’s obvious and sometimes it’s subtle!
What does this have to do with sports day? Well, even if the competition element of sports day is well managed, the seeds of comparison are sown. The message we begin to tell ourselves can often be “not fast enough”…”not strong enough”…”not good enough”.
A sociologist called Brene Brown gave a huge chunk of her life to studying human behaviour. As part of her research for her book ‘Daring Greatly’ she asked participants to fill the gap: never__________enough! The words that filled the gap were “good”, “perfect”, “thin”, “powerful”, “successful”, “smart”, “certain”, “safe”, “extraordinary”. Those words sum up lives lived out of comparison.
As adults we still function far too easily within the constraints of comparison. We measure ourselves against friends, neighbours, colleagues and/or family…we look to the dangerous world of social media where Facebook and Instagram (among others) can scream at us of the ways we just don’t quite make it. The wider input of television, the internet, the press and celebrity also taunt us with ways we haven’t succeeded or don’t quite cut it! If we don’t guard our hearts and souls we can very quickly lose sight of who we really are.
So where us the good news in this? Do the message of faith traditions offer any helpful insights? The Christianity I grew up with only really fed the ‘not enough’ theory…telling me I didn’t pray enough, I wasn’t holy enough, I wasn’t committed enough, basically I wasn’t good enough for God and apparently that’s good news!?
I heard a podcast by a Celtic poet called J. Philip Newell, so I bought his book! He writes:
“I do not believe that the gospel, which means ‘good news’, is given to tell us that we have failed or been false. That is not news, and it is not good. We already know much of that about ourselves…rather the gospel is given to tell us what we don’t know or what we have forgotten, and that is who we are, Sons and daughters of the One from whom all things come. It is when we begin to remember who we are, and who all people truly are, that we will begin to remember also what we should be doing and how we should be relating to one another as individuals, as nations and as an entire earth community.” J. Philip Newell: Christ if the Celts.
This idea that we have forgotten the truth about ourselves, that we look to make sense of ourselves far too often in comparison to or competition with others, means that as a result our ability to be fully alive is hindered.
What if instead we rediscover who we are? What if we stop playing out the lie of “never______enough” and look for the answer to the questions behind those lies.
Those questions we have as we compare ourselves to others are something like: Am I ok? Am I worthy of love? Am I enough?
The answer to those questions echoes through the Jesus story, it cries out from the Jewish account of creation…the answer speaks to your soul as you sit in awe of the sea or sky; the answer whispers to you as you gradually slow down, pause the busyness and still your mind, the same answer leaps out at you as become fully present in this moment, right now…the answer? YES! YES you are ok…YES you are worthy of love and YES you are enough!
Who you are is, at its very essence, good! That is enough. That is good news.