"The LORD does not look at the things that people look at. People look at outward appearance, but the LORD looks at the heart." - 1 Samuel 16:7
Over the years I have realized that as an athlete, I tend to use God as a reward system. “If you help me get this result, I will devote more time to you and believe that you are who you say you are.” Although I haven’t said this out loud, it’s a phrase that has frequently crossed my mind as I’m preparing for a big surf event. I somehow think that I can coerce the God of the universe to give me what I want in exchange for giving God glory with my athletic triumphs.
However, I have learned that God isn’t necessarily glorified by my athletic achievements, especially when I compete with a vain heart. Scripture says that God cares more about the posture of my heart as I prepare for my competitions, rather than being successful by worldly standards. In other words: God doesn’t want lip service, He wants us to come to Him in times of despair, in times of joy, and everything in between. Is my heart really FOR God? Or am I just saying it?
Learning that God wants my heart, not my trophies
Reflecting on this, I have a tendency to only want God for His resources and not for His relationship. In a relationship between two people this would be clearly inappropriate and hurtful. It would be taking advantage of someone for what they can give you and not caring about what you can give them or how you can serve them. For example, imagine you are ONLY friends with someone because you know she gets free tickets to Disneyland…and if you hang out, she will probably invite you. I think we would all agree this would be a bummer!
For some reason it becomes a lot easier to justify or hide this behavior when the relationship is with an invisible God. Nevertheless, it is a very selfish way of communing with God. When I try to manipulate God to get what I want, I am digging myself deeper and deeper into a pit of self-absorption. All I’m thinking about is myself, not God at all! By doing this, I am building my relationship with God on a really weak foundation. I am bound to be disappointed by what I don’t have and by not receiving what I think I deserve…
When I first realized my pattern of playing this manipulation game with God, I didn’t like what I saw. I have found when I compete with a heart of gratitude and servanthood, I am at my best. I become thankful for my health, my talent, and my sport. It’s still okay to be disappointed with losses or bad results, but my relationship with Jesus isn’t shaken by competitive successes or perceived failures. I cannot blame God for my results. When I serve God, I am becoming more and more who I am intended to be, win OR lose.
My Personal Story
My first year competing in the ISA World Championships in Peru, I was in a place where I didn’t welcome God into my athletics or my day to day life. My time competing in Peru was all about me and all I wanted was to prove myself. I had an amazing time competing somewhere new and meeting new people, but I was very self absorbed. I won the gold medal in 2012, but I didn’t realize God had more to offer in my world of competition until I went back to compete in the championships in 2014.
In 2014, the ISA World Championships were in Nicaragua. At this time I had just finished an incredibly transformational year in college where I learned a ton about Jesus. During this season of my life I was so excited to spend time with God in prayer and in Scripture. This growth really prepared me to bring my faith to my competition in Nicaragua. At this event the competition wasn’t on the forefront of my mind. The most important thing to me was to make myself available to share Jesus with my teammates and fellow competitors.
In 2014 I won my second gold medal. Although I had the same result as the previous championship, this win was so much sweeter! I was excited about my result, but even more ecstatic about the amazing conversations I had with teammates and competitors from around the world. It was during this event that God showed me there is so much more joy to be had when we aren’t living just for ourselves, but are living and competing with God.
My name is Emmy Merrill and I am an Emergency Department nurse at Hoag Hospital Irvine. I competed in shortboarding from middle school through high school and currently compete in stand up paddle surfing. I am a 2x ISA Women’s SUP Surf Champion and this year received the bronze medal at the ISA World SUP Championships in Denmark. I love to spend my time in the ocean and in the mountains!