Like Olympians, followers of Christ keep their goal in sight

Glenna Christensen, Idaho Statesman religion columnist
Glenna Christensen, Idaho Statesman religion columnist Idaho Statesman

Every two years the world has the opportunity to watch the Olympic games and marvel at the skill and accomplishments of athletes in a multitude of sports. Often the stories of the athletes themselves overshadow the competition results.

This Olympics was no exception. There were many amazing performances. Although not quite as thrilling as the first USA hockey gold medal, this year’s gold medal, with a team of amateurs, rather than NHL players, was amazing.

Curling was another heartwarming story. Led by John Shuster, who was on the USA team that won the bronze medal in 2006, this team was a group of relative unknowns. Removed from the curling team after the unsuccessful 2014 Olympic attempt, (2010 had been equally bad), Shuster found three fellow curlers from small Midwest towns who believed in him.

Known in curling circles as Team Reject, over the next three years they slowly climbed the national ranks, then through the Olympic trials to represent the USA. Having spent more than half of his 36 years pursuing this odd, intriguing sport, John Shuster and Team Reject won the gold.

What some may not know is that after the 2010 and 2014 Olympics, Shuster’s name became infamous. The word “shuster” was added to the Urban Dictionary. Definition? “A verb meaning to fail to meet expectations, particularly at a moment critical for success or even slightly respectable results,” as in “Man, he really shustered that!” Shuster himself changed the meaning.

Like innumerable athletes before him, whether Olympians or not, Shuster had a goal and worked hard to attain it. The skills required may not equal the rigorous training of a slalom skier or a biathlete, but the focus, determination and consistency are the same.

Those athletes who excel have a goal, often set at a young age. They know what they want to accomplish — what level of performance they need to reach. Their stories are of hours and weeks and years of training. Not just enough to be good, but to be the best that they can — or better.

Their preparation is a daily effort. Too tired? Just don’t want to do it? There are no excuses. Failure to follow the training program has consequences — the goal will be harder to reach and take longer.

There are successes and failures along the way. But failure teaches lessons as well, or better, than winning. It can inspire greater effort, introspection and refocusing of training programs.

The athlete does not follow the path alone. Coaches, teammates, family and mentors teach, encourage and support. And in the end, the athlete has learned discipline, hard work, consistency — traits that lead to success in all aspects of life .

Those who have taken upon themselves the name of Christ have also set a goal — discipleship. A disciple is one who believes the teachings or doctrine of another and follows him.

Bruce R. McConkie identified qualities of a disciple: “1. Believing the true doctrines of Christ (Ether 4:10-12); 2. Obeying the principles of the gospel (John 3:31); 3. Having ‘love one to another’ (John 13:35); ....”

The savior has told us what he expects of his followers. The Sermon on the Mount is replete with directions for changes in attitude, behavior and thought. He concludes, “Be ye therefore perfect, even as your Father which is in Heaven is perfect. “(Matt. 5:48.)

He tells us, “He that believeth on me, the works that I do shall he do also;” and “If ye love me, keep my commandments.” (John 14:12, 15.)

And then the two great commandments: “Thou shalt love the Lord thy God with all thy heart, and with all thy soul, and with all thy mind.” And, “Thou shalt love thy neighbor as thyself.” (Matt. 22:37, 39.)

Neal A. Maxwell taught: “Discipleship ... means being drawn by seemingly small and routine duties toward the fulfillment of the two great and most challenging commandments.”

The goal is to follow Christ. Like the goal of attaining athletic excellence, it requires dedication, consistency and ongoing effort. It isn’t done all at once, but is a process of becoming.

There are times when we may fail, take a detour, but we can always return and resume the path. And step by step, one day at a time, we come nearer the goal.

And though there will be no Olympic medal awaiting us, the end result is greater: “Well done, thou good and faithful servant: ... enter into the joy of thy lord.” (Matt 25:21.)

Glenna M. Christensen is a member of The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints.

The Idaho Statesman’s weekly faith column features a rotation of writers from many different faiths and perspectives.