One of the biggest sports news stories in some time is that Simone Biles withdrew from the gymnastic team competition in the Tokyo Olympics. This decision came just as the USA team was to compete for the gold medal. This development shocked the sports world. Many, if not most, consider Biles to be the greatest of all time in her sport. She has been able to perform feats in competition that have never been done before. Her strength and agility are absolutely amazing.
However, Simone suddenly lost her confidence. She became unable to determine the position of her body as she flipped and twisted through the air. This sometimes happens to gymnasts. They call it “the twisties”. It is similar to a golfer getting “the yips” and suddenly becoming unable to make a putt. The twisties can be dangerous for a gymnast. It must be an awful feeling to not be sure if you are going to land on your feet or on your head!
Biles did the right thing by pulling out of the competition. She realizes that there is more to life than gymnastics, and that she had to protect herself. Her teammates were shocked at first, but steadied themselves with a determination that made us proud. Simone cheered from the sidelines as her teammates valiantly competed, finally settling for the silver medal instead of the gold that had been expected of them.
This story reminds us that athletics is not just about physical health, but mental health as well. Before her decision to withdraw, Biles had said, “I truly do feel like I have the weight of the world on my shoulders at times.”
Pressure is something that all elite athletes must deal with, and sometimes it affects their mental well-being. World-class tennis player Naomi Osaka has received support for recently admitting that she has some concerns about her mental health. Former Olympic champion swimmer Michael Phelps now advocates the importance of tending to the mind after his past experiences of dealing with depression and suicidal thoughts.
Some critics say that these athletes need to toughen up and work their way through these feelings, but most people are more sympathetic and understand that even the strongest people sometimes suffer from the pressures of life.
Paul the apostle, who is considered by many people to be the greatest Christian of all time, certainly felt the pressure at times, and he was not too proud to let it show. In 2 Corinthians 1:8 he writes, “We do not want you to be uninformed, brothers and sisters, about the troubles we experienced in the province of Asia. We were under great pressure, far beyond our ability to endure, so that we despaired of life itself.” In 2 Corinthians 11, Paul lists some of his many troubles: opposition from his enemies, physical torture, death threats, and shipwrecks to name a few. Then he says in v.28, “Besides everything else, I face daily the pressure of my concern for all the churches.”
So if you sometimes feel a heavy burden from the pressures of life, just know that you are in good company. World-class athletes and Jesus’ apostles have also felt the pressure.
Here are a couple of suggestions for what to do when you are feeling overwhelmed. First, it might be that you need to step back and take a break. Jesus says, “Love your neighbor as yourself.” (Matthew 22:39). You can’t do your best job of loving your neighbor if you haven’t first loved yourself enough to address any issues you might be having with your mental well-being. Take some time for self-healing and then get back in the game.
Secondly, trust God to get you through any crisis that has you feeling the pressure. 2 Corinthians 1:9-10 says, “Indeed, we felt we had received the sentence of death. But this happened that we might not rely on ourselves but on God, who raises the dead. He has delivered us from such a deadly peril, and he will deliver us again. On him we have set our hope that he will continue to deliver us.”
Feeling the pressure? Then take care of yourself and trust God. He has not promised to exempt us from troubles, just to see us through them. In John 16:33 Jesus says, “…In this world you will have trouble. But take heart! I have overcome the world.”