The past 6 months have been an emotional rollercoaster for me. Let me begin by giving you a little background about myself.
I became a Christian in 2006 at the age of 16. When I came to Christ, I had been doing elite sports since the age of 8, beginning with gymnastics and transferring over to athletics. In 2006, I wasn't sure whether I should continue with athletics, I had a passion for it but as it was the season where you move into A Levels and are considering your life, I questioned whether I would continue doing athletics.
At the time, I made a decision based on my understanding of God and what I believed to be His will for me. I understood that gifts were God given and therefore concluded that in order to glorify Him one must make the most of those gifts. For me, this meant taking athletics all the way.
Over the next few years, I continued in athletics, becoming an international athlete representing Great Britain a number of times and even medalling for my country. Although I did have success, I did not have any injury free seasons, and from 2008 I had an injury that constantly plagued me — stress fractures in my feet.
Ironically, it was in 2008 (when I was suffering from my first stress fracture) that the Lord told me to leave university. This was probably the second biggest test of obedience that I went through in my life up to that point. The first had been when I had been baptised in the Holy Ghost and spoken in tongues, Abba (Father God) had told me to share my testimony (without leaving any parts out) with my church who did not believe in “any of that”. That was a scary time for me but it was the beginning of a process of breaking the fear of man and any identity I had in their approval or acceptance.
When Abba told me to leave university, I had to face my parents, peers, pastors and other seniors in both athletics and the Church. Nobody understood what I was doing and to most it seemed as if I was crazy, but I knew what my Father had said and I knew that He was pleased with my obedience.
I continued to battle with the fear of man over the next few years, especially in my mind. It wasn’t until, probably 2013, that I could say “I didn’t finish uni” confidently and without the need to justify myself. Up until then I had often said that I left university in order to do athletics. Although I did continue doing athletics after I had left uni, the reason I had left was simply because Abba said so... there was no other reason.
I didn't know the future, but I knew Him, I didn’t know anything about ministry or calling, etc., but I knew that He would take care of me. I had left uni in faith; being sure of the One I hoped for and certain of the One I could not see (Hebrews 11:1).
I realise now that I was using athletics as a mask to hide behind. Because I so often said that I left university to pursue athletics, this actually became my identity. The truth is that behind closed doors I was seeking my Father and the precious time I had when I wasn’t studying and being stressed at uni, I was able to seek His face and develop an intimate and personal relationship with Him. But this is not what I was confessing, and because of that, I was double minded. In public I was pursuing athletics, but behind closed doors I was pursuing the Father. At some point these two worlds would have to align themselves.
Waiting on the Lord
I remember asking God for a word for the athletics season 2012 (the year of the London Olympics). For years up to that point I had become used to hearing false prophecies about my career in athletics; how I would win the Olympics or that the Olympics were in London simply because of me. This may sound crazy to some people reading this, but “worldly success” is often preached from the pulpit. If somebody is good at something and they are a Christian it is often assumed that it is God’s will for that person to “win” or enjoy praise and elevation that comes from man. I have learnt that His ways are so very not our ways, and because of a lot of Christian’s own selfish desires to “be someone” or have a “claim to fame” many people are left feeling that God has let them down when, in fact, He had nothing to do with the words that came out of the mouths of those claiming to hear from Him.
In 2012, I asked Abba for a word for the upcoming season. Of course all my fellow athletes would be trying to make the team, it was a home Olympics, who wouldn't try to make the team? But still, I wanted to know what His word was for me? What was His desire for me? Well... these are the words He had for me:
“But they that wait upon the Lord shall renew their strength; they shall mount up with wings as eagles; they shall run, and not be weary; and they shall walk and not faint.” (Isaiah 40:31 KJV)
Now, I would love to tell you a testimony about how I waited on Him and renewed my strength, but the truth is I did the complete opposite. Sadly, all the false prophecies drove me; my own selfish desire to “be someone and make history” drove me. I stressed myself out, I strived, I got injured, I ran, I cried and all to no prevail. It was only when I realised I would not be going to the Olympics and that there was no way I would be going did I realise that I had believed lies for all those years and, on top of that, the Lord had told me to wait on Him but I had done my own thing. All I could do was repent.
This is really the first time that I began to question my motives and my understanding of God’s will. I knew He could not lie, but I also still believed strongly that He had said athletics was a platform of influence... I now started to question whether His platform of influence and my platform of influence were two different things.
The following year, I received the same word from Abba, but I still didn’t understand what this meant. I had had a dream in 2010 of me winning the World Championships. This was really the only thing I had gotten about athletics and because it came in the year when I had hardly competed because I had gotten married, I held on to this. I didn’t think it could be a product of my own thoughts as I hadn’t been thinking about track or praying about it. I had only had one dream before about me winning a race and that had been in 2003 when I had won English Schools. Because that dream had come true, I thought that maybe this was the same type of dream?
When 2011 and 2013 came (both World Championship years) I tried because I thought “who knows if this is the year”? Well, they both came and went and I was still injured dealing with the same problems that I had been healed from before. I just didn’t understand... Why Abba why?
If I prayed or asked Him about anything else I would receive answers, visions, dreams, scriptures... but with athletics? Nada. It was very frustrating for me. I knew He heard me, I knew He answers me, but for some reason He did not want to answer me about athletics?
When I ran my last race in August 2013, I decided to finally do what He had asked me to do for 2 years in a row. I decided to physically wait and see what He would say. After a month or so of waiting, He told me to take a year out. This took me all the way back to square one and dealing with the fear of man — something I thought I was over with (but obviously not).
Telling my coach that I was not coming back to training when winter started was a big deal, but by God's grace I did it and now I’m 6 months into my year out. Funny thing is that as soon as I was obedient and waited on Him, I got to see physiotherapist, get an MRI scan, and an x-ray etc... All things that I was having difficulties getting before.
New Life. New Desires.
Ever since I have been a believer and an athlete, it has always felt like I was being like Peter, casting out my net over and over, using all my natural strength, skill and ability, but catching no fish. It’s funny because with something like work (where I work in a primary school) I can clearly see His favour, but with athletics, I have never had any favour. If there is a tight finish or a photo finish the favour would never fall in my direction? This cannot be a coincidence?
I remember saying to a friend once that it feels like because I’m a Christian it won’t happen for me, or that things are constantly against me in athletics. She said that because I was a child of God that’s why it would happen for me. I know she meant well, but I genuinely believe part of my frustration has been because I had continued to maintain a worldly perspective of “success” and had brought it to Christ with me. Everything else in my life had been put down, but athletics was the one thing that I came to Christ with and kept. But can this really be the way of God when Jesus clearly says:
“If any person wills come after Me, let him deny himself [disown himself, forget, lose sight of himself and his own interests, refuse and give up himself] and take up his cross daily, and follow me [cleave steadfastly to Me, conform wholly to My example in living and, if need be in dying also].” (Luke 9:23 AMP)
Since I have been on my year out, I have prayed a lot and asked Abba to really show me the motives of my heart. I have questioned the idea of bringing God glory by winning. When people win I cannot see that God truly gets any glory at all. Even if they do say, “I want to thank God”, all that is seen is their success and their money and fame that they get. Athletics itself is all about the glorifying of the human body, pushing it to its limits. As an athlete you have a sense of pride because you are doing something different that others don’t do. You are on a road to “glory” and other people praise you and want you to do well simply so they too can have a claim to fame. That’s really what it’s about, “getting them P’s”.
Yes, a person can use their wealth for good, and to be honest, that was my main reason for doing the sport. But the truth is, Abba has shown me that even with the little we have, He is able to use that and multiply it. Why wait until you have “made it” to begin to do His work?
At the weekend, Abba really showed me how much He has truly changed my heart and how finally my public life and private life are become aligned.
On Saturday 8th Feb (2014) I went to Sheffield to collect my medal that we had won in 2011 at the European under 23 Championships in Ostrava. We had been upgraded to bronze in the 4x100m relay because the winners were found to be drug cheats. This was the first time in the 6 months that I had been back in the athletics world and the truth...?
I didn’t miss it.
When I was there, it was nice to see people, but I didn’t have a desire to be back on the track. I didn’t have a desire to make something of myself or be somebody. The truth is I am already somebody. I am His daughter... I am God’s very own. He loves me and what more is there to add to that?
When we went up to collect our medals I didn’t feel any different. This may sound strange, but whereas before I would feel this feeling of pride and sense of achievement, the medal neither added nor took away from my self-worth. I already knew Whose I was when I stood up there.
Winning a medal is what all athletes work for, they train sweat blood and tears to be recognised. But I realised on Saturday that my desires have totally changed. I only want to be recognised by the King of Kings and Lord of Lords. I want Him to say, “Well done my good and faithful servant”. Whether I win an Olympic medal or not, this will have no impact upon the eternal prize that He gives to His own. I truly want to serve Him and help others to know His saving grace and unconditional love.
I realised that I had still longed for the acceptance of man, that I still cared if people said I quit or wasted my talent. But I also realised that I love and desire my Lord more than any of those things. The flesh doesn’t want to die, but it must.
Becoming a world class athlete has been an expectation that has been placed on my life since the tender age of 11. I still remember my year 6 teacher’s last words to me which were for me to “bring back the gold medal”. I cannot live in this bondage of people pleasing any longer.
It may seem to the onlooker that my life lacks success, but as long as I have my God I know that I have all that I will ever need.
My identity is not in being an athlete, Christ is my identity.
I have been raised with Him, I seek after the rich eternal treasures that are above, where Christ my Lord is seated with God. I must keep my mind set on higher things, not earthly things. For I died with Christ and my new, real life is hidden with Christ in God. (Personalisation of Colossians 3:1-3)
May I ignore the shame that comes with renouncing being an athlete. (Hebrews 12:2)
I am Yours and You are mine.
I no longer have to seek after earthly treasures or prizes.
I run the race of faith, receiving the heavenly, everlasting prize.