And it seems to shout loudest every four years.
It says things like, “Just look at her--you never did that. You’ve never achieved success at that level much less any other. What have you done with your life? You’re a stay-at-home mom trying to convince yourself that you’re a writer. And let’s not even begin to talk about that body… you might as well pass the Doritos sister because there is no way you’re ever going to recover from the last fifteen years.”
You think I’m joking. I’m not.
Only three days ago I was on the phone with my father reminding him of the Olympic champion that I never was. Because one way I cope with all this angst is to do what so many other people do—I blame my parents. After all, if I was ever going to be a real contender for the women’s gymnastics’ all-around gold, they should have gotten their act together when I was three and enrolled me at the local gym. From there, it would’ve only been a matter of time before I was discovered. But they didn’t, so I wasn’t.
Now, every four years as I sit and watch all the pageantry, as I thrill at those hundredths of a point that separate good from best, there is a part of me that continues to feel very judged by it all. You’re not good enough. You’re not competitive enough. You’re not dedicated enough. You’re not one of the best. In fact, you never even had a chance.
Before you judge me one neurosis short of certifiable, let me quickly acknowledge that I agree with you. I have a huge problem with accepting my limitations. Because of this, even the smallest decisions (and their accompanying restrictions) paralyze me. I know that once I choose one option, all the others will be closed off to me. Pick the linguini and I can’t have the shrimp. Buy the purple heels and I have to pass on the yellow flats. Put my kids in traditional school and they’ll miss out on the opportunity of a free-range education. In short, take the road less traveled but understand that there’s no shortcut back to the other one.
Still, through this last decade of adulthood, I’ve also come to realize that I’ve got to stop playing the “What if?” game. Blaming my parents or berating myself for my own lack of decisiveness hasn’t made me more successful or happy—it’s simply makes me resentful and guilty. Because the real cause of this touch of existential flu isn’t that I’ll never win an Olympic medal or that life often takes unpredictable turns. No, the real cause of all this angst is my need to regularly and humbly accept the role of providence in my life.
For most of us, God’s providence comes with overtones of the grand sweep of history, seeing the bigger picture, or understanding the tapestry of life. Providence is “God’s intervention in the world.” But for me? Well, I need my providence to be of a bit more personal variety. Because for me, personal providence is the only thing that keeps me sane during those times when I’m feeling particularly small or I feel like I don’t quite measure up. In short, God’s personal providence explains why I never made it to the winner’s podium and why I never even came close.
In my life, learning to trust His providence means accepting that the decisions that I’ve made—and the ones made for me—are entirely within His will. It means accepting that He placed me precisely in human time and space for a specific purpose. It means trusting that His sovereign power has deemed me to be exactly who I am, where I am, and when I am.
Ultimately trusting God’s personal providence means embracing His hand as the guiding force of my life, not my own.
And here, there is no room for regret, no room for remorse, no room for failure, no room for angst. Instead trusting Him frees me to pursue what He has always intended for me--loving my family and friends, developing my distinct gifts, and serving those around me. Trusting Him frees me to live right here, right now.
In a world where success isn’t easily quantified like at the Olympics or grade school, where no one is handing out medals for finally making the monthly meal schedule and the only gold stars are the ones we use for potty training; in this world, personal providence means everything. Because in this world, we’re aiming at a goal much more elusive, much more private, but much more enduring. We’re pressing toward the goal of the high calling of Christ Jesus; we’re waiting for “well-done.”
And that only comes by faithful obedience to His providence.
It doesn’t come by chasing someone else’s dreams; it comes by chasing the ones specifically prepared for me. Dreams of love and peace and security. And in my case, that means that every four years, I have to once again accept that maybe, just maybe, He never intended me to be a champion Olympic gymnast.