To say that Yogi Berra is the godfather of malapropisms, is not to say that many other athletes aren’t quite capable of screwing up normal conversations. Take the Olympic athletes. Gymnast Paul Hamm who said, “I owe a lot to my parents, especially to my mother and father.” In defending the sport of boxing, boxer Alan Minter said: “Sure there have been a lot of injuries and deaths in boxing, but none of them serious.” And then there was the soccer player who said, “I’ve never had major knee surgery on another part of my body.”

Every four years, athletes from around the world gather for the Olympic test and sometimes these athletes say really funny things. But getting into the Olympic games is no laughing matter.

During the Olympics we repeatedly hear stories of athletes who have had to overcome one obstacle after another simply to arrive at the games. Every athlete has a story—and many of these stories are touching, sometimes heart wrenching tales of grace and grit, commitment and sacrifice.

When these athletes tell their stories, without exception, they gratefully confess they couldn’t have made it to the games without the support of family, the help of friends, the encouragement of coaches and teammates. Every athlete is tested along the way and every athlete faces obstacles and difficulties. But without exception, every Olympic athlete confesses that she or he couldn’t have made it to the Olympics without the love and support of others.
Inevitably though, there comes a moment of truth.

The sprinter shoots out of the blocks. The gymnast twists on the parallel bars or the diver, poised on the lip of the diving platform bounds up and takes a leap. In these moments the athlete is utterly alone. Nobody, not one’s family, friends or coach can run that race, take that leap or make that dive. In the heat of competition each and every athlete must face the test alone.

This is the Olympic paradox. Olympic athletes can’t make it to the games without the help of others, but in their moment of truth, they are all on their own.

Sport imitates life.

For every human being, life brings trials, tests and intense challenges. None of us can make it through our tests and trials without the support of others but in the final analysis, no one can take our tests for us. This, at least, has been my experience.

In the late 1980’s I entered a period of about 5 years of tests, trials and tribulations like I had never known. First, I went through a painful divorce. Two years later I was hospitalized with asthma. Five months after that I suffered a manic episode and found myself locked up in the psychiatric intensive care unit of a local hospital. Two years after that I was hospitalized again with broken ribs from an automobile accident.

Through all of those trying experiences, I was surrounded by the tremendous support from my family, friends and my congregation. But during that time I encountered an immutable truth.

Nobody else could take my place. Nobody else could take my tests for me. Whatever I found myself in, I was in it alone. There was no savior. No one showed up to deliver me.

We can’t make it alone but we are always alone. This paradox defines our humanity.

It’s like we are all standing in line, waiting for our turn, waiting to be tested. If you don’t know what I am talking about, I guarantee that some day you will. Are you struggling at work? Have you lost your job? Are you facing surgery? Do you have cancer? Is your crying baby causing sleep deprivation and you don’t know how you can keep going? Have you tested positive for HIV? Is your life in transition? Has death stolen someone near and dear? Are you standing at a crossroads and engulfed by the fog of uncertainty?

M Scott Peck began his bestseller The Road Less Traveled with these three words, “Life is difficult.” A book that begins with those three words is bound to be a bestseller. This is a universal truth, isn’t it? Life brings one challenge after another. Some times it seems like a pop quiz. Sometimes it’s like a final exam. Whether the test is large or small, every difficult experience challenges the spirit to rise above it.

Without these tests we have little motivation to face our fragility. Without these tests we cannot appreciate how precious life really is. But we cannot really know how fragile and precious life is unless we experience our own lives as fragile and precious.

Unlike the Olympic games now being played in Beijing, the purpose of the Olympic games of the soul is not for us to become winners—but rather to wake us up.

The Olympic games of the soul teach us to look at life with new eyes, with different eyes than the eyes of the head. The Olympic games of life teach us to look at life with the eyes of the heart. To see life with the eyes of the heart is to look beneath the broken surface of life and see the hidden wholeness.

I love the story about Thomas Merton who had a vision while standing on a street corner in Louisville Kentucky. He suddenly saw something in the people on the street that he had never before seen. He writes, “Then it was as if I suddenly saw the secret beauty of their hearts, the depths of their hearts where neither sin nor desire can reach, the core of their reality, the person that each one is in God’s eyes. If only they could see each other that way all the time, there would be no war, no more hatred, no more cruelty, no more greed…I suppose the big problem would be that we would fall down and worship each other.”

If you have ever come through a really big test in your life, when you have made it to the other side, having fought the fight, expended all that energy, having your insides turned out, to find yourself on the other side of it, one thing you don’t feel is self important. On the other side of tribulation one is filled with indescribable humility and incomparable gratitude. It is only when the heart is cracked open that we see the beauty of life that is indescribable and breathtaking.

In his song, “Panning For Gold,” Ben Sollee sings:

I saw God by the river, panning for gold
I saw God by the river, weary and old
He said “son, I used to know where I put things. I used to know”
I saw God in the forest teaching Tai Chi to the Trees in the wind
bowing to the sea
God said “son, I used to know where I put things. I used to know”
I saw God on the mountain tearing at the sky
I saw God on the mountain with tears in his eyes
He said “son, I used to know where I put things, I used to know
I could have shown you all the beauty in the world
but now I need you to show me.”

So when we are tested, maybe it helps to remember to listen for the Divine voice speaking from within—I can’t remember where I put the beauty in the world, now I need for you to show me.