If you’ve been watching the 2018 Winter Olympics at all (it’s on constantly at my house thanks to my being married to an Olympics fanatic) you’ve probably heard the name Mikaela Shiffrin a few times. This 22 year old is one of the best skiers in the world today and she’s a favorite to take home a medal or two this year. Beyond being great at her sport, she is young and adored by the media and the masses. She’s confident, spunky, pretty, and positioned to break records. You know how this works; famous people eventually gain a public voice often by no other merit than that they are famous. So people listen to them when they speak and more often than not affirm what they say. As you can imagine, NBC and a host of other media outlets have interviewed her a hundred times. But there was one particular interview that caught my attention. In this interview, Shiffrin admitted to struggling recently with anxiety, doubt, and some depression related to when she competes. Her sports psychologist told her to focus on the words “I am” and say things to herself like, “I am strong, I am fast, I am the best, I am great, I will win,” etc. During this segment in the interview they showed a picture of how she writes only the words “I am” on her gloves or other parts of her gear to remind her of this new-found source of hope and peace in those times when she struggles the most. As a Christian that image struck me and I felt both disgust and pity at the same time. When this accomplished young women feels scared, nervous, inadequate, anxious, and depressed, the best hope she was given was to chant praises to herself in order to find peace, strength and significance for the moment. But where was she told to find it? Within herself.
If you are a Christian too, you are probably struck by that image of “I am” for the same reason I was. The God of the Bible has labeled himself as the Great I AM. The I AM has offered strength and hope to any who would come after him in humility and belief. The Great I AM is strong when we are weak. I felt discomfort at seeing “I am” written on her gloves because of how presumptuous such a notion truly is (according to a biblical worldview). I felt pity because of just how sad that presumption is as well. Shiffrin could find lasting strength, peace, and significance if her “I am” chanting were about the Great I AM and not about herself. Humans possess incredible abilities to be sure, but we are limited and relatively weak. The possibility that our best hope is found in ourselves is devastating and truly depressing to someone who understands what sin has done to humanity. There are none righteous, no not one (Rom 3:10). The heart is deceitful above all things, and desperately sick; who can understand it? (Jer 17:9).
When Moses first met God in the burning bush (Exo 3), after being told to go give Israel the good news that God is going to deliver them, Moses asks the voice in the bush for a name to give to the Jews. God responds by first telling Moses, “I AM WHO I AM.” God wasn’t giving his name yet. He was making a claim about who he is. He is absolute. He absolutely is. Who is He? Next, God tells Moses to tell the Jews that YAHWEH the God of Abraham, Isaac, and Jacob has sent him. Now we have a name, but that name is not just some phonetic label. That name is connected directly with who God is. He is the God who called, led, provided for, protected, and blessed Abraham. He is the God who grew and blessed Abraham’s family just like he promised. He is who he is. And he can prove it by what he has done.
Much later in history, God in the flesh, Jesus the Christ, makes the claim in John 8:58 that before Abraham was, I AM. Who is God? He is the one who has saved his people from their sins by sacrificing his son; just like he said he would. Jesus would also expand on who he is as God by saying things like, “I am the Good Shepherd, the Bread of Life,” and others. He is who he is – the Great I AM.
Without the power and influence of the Great I AM no amount of self-encouragement will improve our life or give us peace in times of worry and doubt. When we know we have a perfect and perfectly dependable God to rely upon, it makes more sense to chant “He is good, He is strong, He is fast, He is great, He is the best, He will win. HE IS WHO HE IS.”
I hope that all the Mikaela Shiffrins out there get a chance to hear about this greater(est) I AM so that she and they might find peace, strength and significance in someone who actually deserves the praise. Admittedly, it may not help her ski any better, but it will lead her to everlasting life once the sheen of those Olympic medals fades away and give her peace in the meantime.