Monday, February 17, 2014

When What You Do Doesn't Feel Like Enough

So I’ve been watching the Olympics and as usual, I’m in absolute awe at the courage, determination and perseverance of the athletes. Men and women, young and old (well, “old” by athletic standards) – they are showing the world some amazing stuff.

Every once in a while I get a flash of insight as one of them speaks. I think about the grace that can be involved in either winning or losing. Sometimes it’s the ones that lose – or at least the ones who don’t finish first – that pull most on my heart. Watching them cross finish lines only to see their time has fallen short, seeing them crash to the ice but get back up and finish, I am seriously moved by the thought of all the passionate work and practice that stands behind that moment. Perhaps especially behind the moment that didn’t quite turn out the way they expected.

The other day I was watching the women’s skeleton race, that incredibly high speed head-first sledding down a treacherous, winding track. The fact that anybody can do this at all astounds me – the initial run, the graceful leap onto the sled, the careful steering as the sled careens around corners and flies at a breakneck pace sometimes hitting 80 miles per hour. If you didn’t get to see it, believe it, it was great fun watching the sheer chutzpah and skill of these women athletes!

Two American sledders were highlighted. The first was Noelle Pikus-Pace, a mom of young children making a comeback after finishing fourth in the last Olympic games, only to finish a euphoric, stand-climbing, kid-hugging silver medalist in this one. The other was Katie Uhlaender, a bright-red headed 29 year old Kansan and the daughter of the late Ted Uhlaender, a former major-league baseball player and coach. He died a few years ago and she still wears his baseball ring on a chain around her neck. She finished eleventh in the last Olympics and had trained hard for this one, only to be derailed by a concussion last year. Still battling its repercussions, she fought hard and finished fourth by a mere four one hundredths of a second.

There was something about Katie that really got to me. She made me smile for one – her hip, dyed red hair and fun attitude reminding me of Tonks in the Harry Potter stories. NBC did several spotlights on the skeleton event in which Katie helpfully explained to the viewing audience how the whole thing worked, what the sleds are like, etc. Her enthusiasm was catching.

All the harder then to see her in tears at the end of the race, reiterating the “four one hundredths” of a second and clearly devastated to not win a medal. Listening to her talk to the reporter, her eyes welling with tears, I tried to imagine what it would feel like to dedicate yourself to such rigorous training for so many years only to fall just *that* far short of your ultimate goal. Then she said something that drew me up short, not because I couldn’t resonate with it, but because of how much I did: “I’m sorry, everybody.” Or as I read more fully later, “I want to apologize that what I did wasn’t enough.”

Ah, the heartache of those words. Do they sound familiar, sister? I say sister here (though brothers may be reading this too) because although this is a deeply human trait, in my experience, it seems that women tend to fall into the apologizing trap more readily than men. Yes, apologies are important when we really need to say them, but how often we apologize, even when we do something good, loving, real, because we fear it just “isn’t enough.”

Katie didn’t win a medal. In that sense, yes, quantitatively what she did was “not enough” to achieve the goal she so much wanted to achieve. But did she need to apologize for her performance? A gritty, determined, exciting performance with so much work behind it, a performance that showed on that given day, she was fourth best in the world at what she did? How many of us have ever poured our hearts into anything that fully, or worked that hard to achieve something? No apologies needed, Katie, I felt like saying, wishing I could reach through the screen to give her a hug. What you did was terrific.

But then I think, on a small and daily basis, how often I don’t cut myself or others the same slack. I don’t offer myself or others the grace of knowing that, hey, for today, what you did was enough. Even if it wasn’t perfect, not worthy of a gold (or silver, or bronze, or fourth place…or seventeenth). That meal you cooked with love that didn’t turn out quite the way you planned because you forgot an ingredient? That time you lost your temper yet again, but the way you pulled it together so quickly the next time and exhibited real self-control? Those pages and pages of really good writing you were going to accomplish that turned into only a few hundred hard-fought words that likely won’t all make it the next draft?

There really probably are lots of times in our lives, more than we’d like to admit, when what we do isn’t enough. But there are lots of other times when what we think of as “enough” is way more than it needs to be. Maybe there are times when doing our absolute best with all the love we can muster is enough, no matter what the results are. Maybe there is even something better for us than the results we so much wanted (that’s a tough one, I know). Maybe too God will make up for whatever’s lacking in what we did. He’s good at that. He’s always enough.

1 comment:

Erin said...

Amen, Beth. Thanks for that, from a chronic apologizer!