Like many of you, I suspect, I have been watching the Olympics when I am not at work. I admit it. I am an Olympics junkie. I will flip through the various television channels to find something to watch until it I am almost late getting back to the office after lunch or until it is way past my bedtime in the evening. I am such an Olympics junkie that I will watch some event or the other, even if I would never watch that sport at any other time (synchronized swimming anyone?). I am proud of all the athletes that have sacrificed so much to do what they love. I am proud of my country when one of our athletes stands on the podium and when our national anthem is played at the medal ceremony. I love that the Olympics is all about putting aside political differences and national rhetoric and coming together in peace for friendly, albeit intense, competition.
This week, however, I am extremely proud of one of our American athletes, not because of what she did in the competition arena, but because of what she did outside of it. Even if you are not glued to the television screen or the Olympic news channels, you have probably heard that Simone Biles, the most decorated gymnast in history, pulled out of the team and all-around competitions this week. As I write this, it is still to be determined if she will compete in the individual apparatus events. She did this saying she has never felt this way entering any competition in her 17 years in the sport and citing her mental health. I am proud of her for stepping back from the shot at six gold medals and the glory that would undoubtedly come with them. I am proud of her for being her team’s biggest cheerleader, their on-floor leader, and even in a way, an unofficial coach. I hurt for her when I see people, many of whom have no idea of the stress and pressure that elite athletes face, being ugly to her because she “let her country down” or “took a spot that another gymnast could have had.” But I am proud of her for knowing her body and her limitations and having the courage to say, “enough. I can’t do this right now.” I know that this could not have been an easy decision for Simone. I am sure that it was not one that she made lightly. I am fairly confident that if she felt she could have competed without putting herself in danger or damaging her team’s medal hopes that she would have.
I know that there are not many people reading this who are elite athletes in any sport. There probably aren’t many of us who have reached elite status in any of our endeavors. Yet, I believe that if we are honest with ourselves many of us understand what stress and expectations can do for our mental health. Sometimes, perhaps most times in ‘real’ life, we are our own worst enemies when it comes to this area of our lives. We impose the stress and the expectations on ourselves far more than anyone in our circles does. I think we need to take a lesson from Simone Biles today. I think it is time to stop for a few moments and really examine ourselves. It is time for a mental health check of our own. It is something of which we need to continually be aware, not just today or tomorrow, but always. And we need to frequently be assessing and reevaluating it.
I am not an expert in mental health by any stretch of the imagination, but I do know that mental health has to do with more than an official diagnosis of mental illness. But I do think that the pressures we put upon ourselves and the stresses we encounter day to day are heavier than they have been at any other time in our lives. The pandemic has isolated us and cut off our emotional outlets. Businesses are having trouble hiring people, so employees are expected to do more with less. Prices are skyrocketing as we try returning to our new normal. Politics, race relations, our attitudes toward law enforcement, our beliefs about LGBTQ+ people, and any number of other things divide us – often bitterly. As a result our mental health is suffering.
In Paul’s first letter to the Corinthians, Scripture tells us “Or don’t you know that your body is a temple of the Holy Spirit who is in you? Don’t you know that you have the Holy Spirit from God, and you don’t belong to yourselves? You have been bought and paid for, so honor God with your body.” (1 Corinthians 6:19-20, CEB). Our bodies are the dwelling place of the Holy Spirit. We need to honor that within ourselves, both physically and mentally. Life will do its darnedest to through us for a loop. There will be days, perhaps even weeks or months or years, that things will seem to be against us. Where things will seem to be trying to drive a wedge between us and our God. I don’t believe this is the work or the will of God. It is the forces of evil and the nature of the world we live in. We may not be able to control the things that are happening around us or to us, but we can choose how we react to them. When it all gets to be too much – even better, before it gets to be too much – we all need to stop what we are doing, step back and say, “enough!” We need to take that mental health break, be kind to ourselves, and do what needs to be done to get ourselves mentally back on track (yes, I am preaching to the choir here). Take a mental health day or two. Get some counseling or some spiritual guidance if necessary. Go on vacation. Spend time with loved ones. Read a good book. Splurge on your favorite treat. Forget the housework in favor of the nap you have been denying yourself. Spend time with God.
Scripture also says, “Dear friend, I’m praying that all is well with you and that you enjoy good health in the same way that you prosper spiritually.” (3 John 1:2, CEB). Let’s take a few minutes today, and often, to take care of ourselves. And Simone, I know you won’t ever see this, but know that you have at least one fan who admires your courage and your commitment.