I rarely blog about public figures. Doing so is risky since it’s impossible to know the heart of a person based on public persona and media coverage.
But I’m feeling the pull to make an exception, for Michael Phelps.
He is clearly the greatest competitive swimmer in Olympic history and perhaps the greatest athlete of the modern era. He has twenty-eight medals, twenty-three of them gold, earned in four different Olympic games.
Michael Phelps was worshipped as a sports god. He was catapulted to global stardom and to overnight mega-wealth. In my opinion, he lacked the maturity to wear it gracefully. Rather than be humbled by his success, he was filled with arrogance and kept flying higher and higher, lifted by the updrafts of personal glory.
In his pride and self-reliance, he was drawn to the sun, and his wings melted.
His challenges with alcohol, driving while intoxicated, a tarnished pubic image, and less than stellar athletic performances reduced him to a curled up fetal position. He was defeated and depressed.
Then he spent 45 days at a rehab facility in Arizona.
At The Rio Games
I found Michael’s demeanor at the Rio Olympics completely changed. Gone were the swagger, pride, and arrogance. In their place were gentleness, humility, and a quick smile for everyone. He dodged opportunities to be self-aggrandizing and instead gave positive attention to his family, his teammates, and to the honor of competitive sport.
Proverbs Was Right
“Pride goes before destruction, and haughtiness before a fall,” 16:18.
Do you know what the next verse says? “Better to live humbly with the poor than to share plunder with the proud.”
Phelps has great wealth. But for 45 days he humbled himself, becoming lowly in spirit, and submitted to a higher power. Pride goes before destruction, but the humble will soon be lifted up. I don’t know his heart, but I believe he has done some honest business with God.
A Lesson For Us All
I’ll never be famous and wealthy. Still, I’ve known pride and have felt the heat of the sun on my wings. Honestly, haven’t we all?
Someone said, “You can humble yourself before God today, or he will knock you on your back tomorrow.” God will give us time to change. But if we persist in self-sufficiency, then he will do what he does.
Michael Phelps’s story reminds me to seek first the Kingdom of God.
Living humbly before God is a great place to be.