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Athlete or Athlete

I want to introduce you to a word you may not have heard before – homograph. Or at least not since elementary school! A homograph is a word that has two different meanings, but the same spelling. Let me give you a few examples. Take the word bat. Bat can be a tiny flying mouse or something you swing at a baseball. How about the word fine? Is that your mood for the day or a fee you owe for illegal parking? The only way to figure out the meaning of the word is to examine the context in which it’s used. The context reveals the definition. I believe the word “athlete” is also a homograph. While as a coach I use it to describe everyone who is working out, the truth is the word “athlete” doesn’t mean the same thing for every person. Let me give you two working definitions for “athlete” and some context behind their meaning.

First, there are what I call position athletes. Position athletes use the term to define their position, or identity, in life. They want so badly to be part of an athletic lifestyle and an athletic community it becomes how they define themselves. They’re excited to let the world know and see that they are an athlete. In order to maintain their identity as an athlete, they take on a performance-based approach in the gym. Their success or failure as an athlete is tied to how they perform. Don’t get me wrong, I think performance is great. But when your success is tied to performance, your view can become short-term, and full of lots of highs and lows.

Then, there are progress athletes. Progress athletes use the term to describe their journey of physical transformation. For them, athlete is a mindset, not an identity. Their success or failure is tied to their commitment. In other words, progress athletes are more about showing up every day than showing off every workout. Their struggles are proof something is happening, and it gives them a long-term view as to what those results might one day be.

There’s another word I want to discuss, although I’m hesitant to put it in writing, because it’s also a homograph. Two people can hear this word and define it very differently. The word is Christian. Just like there are position and progress athletes, there are position and progress Christians. Let me put some definitions around these really quick. Position Christians take on a similar performance-based approach in their spiritual lives. Again, there’s nothing wrong with performance or results, but defining who you are in the eyes of God based on your effort can put you in a pretty difficult spot. Some position Christians end up trying to please God believing because of their effort, He will bless them. Then when they don’t get the blessing they expected, they assume they didn’t do enough or pray enough or give enough money to the church. God doesn’t invite us into a transactional relationship with Him.

Instead, He invites us into a loving, grace filled relationship. The kind you want to be in long term, and that’s the view progress Christians hold. Just as there’s transformation in our physical lives, progress Christians know there’s also transformation in our spiritual lives. They define their relationship with God based on commitment, not effort. Another word for commitment would be faith. Progress Christians have faith even when things aren’t going the way they want, a.k.a. struggles, something good is still resulting from it in the long term.

As we grow in our spiritual lives, we need to look for more homographs. I’m convinced they’re all around us. We need to expand our view of words, specifically those used to define individuals or groups of people. We need to understand not everyone who wears our label holds our view, and you know what, that’s ok. At the end of the day our love for God and for one another will prove to the world who we are. And as the classic Beatles song goes, “…love is all you need.”

Questions for Reflection:

Do you agree or disagree the word Christian has different meanings to different people? What does it mean to you?

Paul calls the Colossians to “put on love.” What does that look like in our present day?

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