What a joy the Paralympics have been! The Olympics were glorious, but the Paralympics have been truly stunning and inspirational. Athletes that many of us only first heard about at London 2012 have now become household names – Hannah Cockcroft, Jonnie Peacock, Ellie Simmonds, Dame Sarah Storey and Richard Whitehead have all lived up to their billing at Rio 2016 and deserve the much heralded superlative of ‘superhumans’. At the time of writing the medal tally for Team GB in Rio has surpassed that of London 2012 and a whole new bunch of athletes have been introduced to the world. The high-lights programme with Claire Balding combined with the comedy and sense of fun that comes with ‘The Last Leg’ team (Adam Hills, Josh Widecombe and Alex Brooker) have helped us all, without being patronizing or sentimental, to look beyond the disability and see the athletes for the people they really are. This doesn’t trivialise the tragedy and trauma that some people experience but celebrates their strength of character, the human spirit and their various accomplishments in the light of it.
However, it was the theme tune of ‘The Last Leg’ permeating the sport which really caught my attention. This rap song called ‘Harder than You Think’ performed by the hip hop group Public Enemy contains the phrase ‘thank you for letting us be ourselves’ and it got me thinking. Every parent tries to encourage their child to be independent, to learn to think for themselves, stand up for themselves and be creative rather than to simply ‘go with the flow’ or be negatively influenced by others. We hate it when people try to coerce us into being something that we are not, either by steering us down a certain path or restricting our choice or freedom of expression. We resent being ‘put in a box’ and told that we can’t do something when we think we can. Essentially what we hate is any attempt to manipulate us or restrict our freedom to be ourselves. Although parents can (and should) offer advice and guidance, the willingness to let your child be free, to find their own way and lead their own lives is really an act of love – but it’s risky, because with freedom of choice comes the possibility of making mistakes.
Sadly, the world in which we live isn’t perfect, because alongside the many joys of life are sadness and sorrow as people behave badly and make mistakes. The Christian perspective is one that says that although God initially made the world perfect, he also graciously and kindly gave us human beings the freedom of thought, expression and choice; he gave us the freedom to be ourselves because that was the loving thing to do. God no doubt saw the future and understood the risks but he willingly gave us the freedom to be ourselves precisely because he isn’t a dictator and neither are we his mindless slaves or robots. The incredible thing is that despite our many failings and mistakes, God still loves us and right from the start had a plan to put things right, and that plan – was Jesus! God so loved the world that he gave his one and only Son to death upon the cross, so that by that terrible process, we might be forgiven of our sins and spared the consequences of our actions. This shows just how deeply God loves us and the true extent to which he is willing to go in order that we might have the freedom to be ourselves. So whatever challenges in life we personally face, let us like our inspirational Paralympians, be ourselves to the best of our ability.
“For God so loved the world that he gave his one and only Son, that whoever believes in him shall not perish but have eternal life. John 3.16