The sporting alternative offered by prayer

This blog, by Assistant District Manager, Melvyn Howe, first appeared in the “This is” series.

©Glow Images – ‘Thank God Ledge’

With the capital gearing up for the London Paralympics after the “greatest Games ever”, many of 11,000-plus athletes that took part will have returned home to rapturous welcomes.

As the special spirit associated with this four-yearly sporting extravaganza continues to spread its blessings around the world, most of those that participated will have been enjoying a well-earned rest, almost certainly feeling grateful for having been able to take part and probably reflecting on the immense effort and years of gruelling training that helped them to do so.

Their grit and determination, their courage, discipline, diligence, perseverence, dedication and endless patience amounts to one simple fact – they gave their all.

Their unstinting efforts helped London Mayor Boris Johnson declare: “If you were to say to me that we have just held the greatest games ever in Britain, I would say you are on the right track.”

Self proclaimed “living legend” Usain Bolt was among those who typifies the focus necessary to reach the top – sprinting to victory in the individual 100m and 200m track events and gaining a third gold in the team relays.

My son was among the Stratford stadium’s fortunate thousands who watched the athlete romp to victory in the 200m final. His verdict: “Awesome.”

After the race Bolt made it clear he believed more than just physical effort was necessary to achieve such sporting success.

He tweeted he wanted to “thank GOD” for everything He had done, adding that without Him “none of this” would have been possible.

Missy Franklin, America’s 17-year-old swimming sensation, who won four golds at London 2012, would probably agree.

“God is always there for me,” she said recently. “I talk with Him before, during and after practice and competitions. I pray to Him for guidance. I thank Him for this talent He has given me and promise to be a positive role model for young athletes in all sports.”

My son, a former competitive swimmer and once rated amongst the country’s best backstrokers for his age, also appreciates the pivotal role prayer can play.

I spent years taking him – not always that eagerly – to a seemingly unending succession of 5.30am swimming sessions and a plethora of meets here and abroad.

I remember one particular competition where he had (not unusually) been at the pool all day – from an 8am warm-up all the way through a relentless 12-hour succession of heats and finals.

It had been a particularly tough meet, but one that had still given him a clutch of medals, including a coveted gold. Yet when he learnt early evening he had been picked for an open team medley his resolve faltered.

He came over and confided he was simply not up to competing in yet another demanding race and was going to ask his coach if he could pull out. I understood how he felt. Even for me, hours of screaming “Move, move!” (silly really – what else was he going to do?) wasn’t the most relaxing way to spend a Saturday.

But from long experience I knew a “There, there, you poor thing” wouldn’t help. So I gave him the best advice I knew: “Pray about it. You will then know what to do.” he nodded, gave me a hug and returned to his team-mates.

While one part of me expected him to gather his kit together and join me in the spectator stands, I wasn’t really surprised either when, shortly afterwards, he took his place, perfectly composed on the starting block.

A few minutes later he had helped his team swim to victory and added another medal to his burgeoning collection.

On the way home, thinking his coach may have read him the Riot Act, I asked my son  what had changed his mind.

He replied: “As I prayed about it I realised there are things in life you have to do. I decided this was one of them.” Recalling how he had then rejoined his team-mates, he added: “You know what? I felt stronger too.” He was 12 at the time.

So what is prayer? I can only answer from my own perspective. It puts me in touch with the divine and lifts my thinking and often my experience above the unwanted limitations of everyday life.

Thoughts of tiredness, bad-temperedness, boredom and stress have all yielded as I have seen I do not have to serve such taskmasters.

But so, too, have various physical ailments including chronic back pain, courtesy of a poorly-executed “clean and jerk” lift at the local gym.

Through prayer, I was able to reason that since my relationship with God could never be strained, this or that part of my body was no exception either. My recovery took minutes. Forty years and many gym visits later, the problem has never returned.

Some might argue it was just some sort of placebo effect – that is, I got better simply because I believed I would. But for me this was not just blind faith or a wave of the mental wand and a case of “Hey Presto! – all is well”.

What I believe I glimpsed was my on-going, unboken relationship with my creator. As soon as that happened it became my default experience.

Something very similar occurred to my son, showing him he didn’t have to down vitamin pills or reach for an energy drink to achieve success.

The views of Bolt and Franklin and the experience of my son and myself suggest to me that whether you are a member of the world’s sporting elite or a rank amateur (as per yours truly), aligning thought with the divine lift’s one’s expectations from the floor of fear and discouragement to the podium of possibilities.



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Author:Tony Lobl

I write and speak on spirituality from my perspective as a Christian Science practitioner. I am also an Associate Editor for the Christian Science periodicals. I studied at the University of Surrey earning a BSc Hons Degree in Modern Mathematics before the impact of spirituality on health caught my attention and re-shaped my career.

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