In 2008, Shawn Johnson represented the distinguished Unites States gymnastics program at the Beijing Olympics. I remember the buzz that summer. Everyone was talking about what the U.S. Gymnastics team might accomplish under the leadership of the 16-year-old phenom, Shawn Johnson.

What I don’t remember is all the pressure these expectations laid upon her talented young heart, because that’s never part of the story. We rarely get to see what is going on in the hearts of these young athletes during the Olympic games.

I recently stumbled upon this video where Shawn shares her own memories from Beijing.

This video made me sad. I was sad about the unnecessary pressure she felt and how earning silver medal “crushed her heart.” It’s sad that second place is no longer good enough in our society. I can’t believe someone would ever feel that a silver medal is something that needs to be apologized for.

However, I love how God walked with Shawn through her story. Here are four lessons we can learn from Shawn Johnson about how God helps us handle the pressure in our own lives.

1. Failures Don’t Define Us

It is very troubling that one of the top gymnasts in the world felt like a failure because she got a silver medal. She should have felt celebrated for earning a medal at all (or even for being on the team), but second best wasn’t good enough. We let the Olympic hype keep her from celebrating the use of her gift.

Shawn reminds us that our failures do not make us failures as human beings. Every great accomplishment is often preceded by countless failures. I appreciated Shawn’s reflection at the end of the video that true success is found in living for Christ. If Christ is happy with our lives, we shouldn’t let our failures keep us from being content.

2. We Can Handle More Than We Think When We Walk With Christ

When times of pressure come (and they always do), the Bible doesn’t merely call us to look to ourselves for strength. God’s word calls us to look to God for strength. We are reminded “The Lord is a stronghold” (Ps. 9:9), and we are commanded to “Be strong in the Lord” (Eph. 6:10). The Bible is not a book about becoming a strong person in ourselves, but learning to walk with and depend on the strength of our strong God.

When the pressures of life come, we must learn to strengthen ourselves in the ocean of God’s strength. He can make us strong where we feel weak. One of the best ways to make God look good is to let people watch him strengthen us in our weaknesses.

3. Be Happy With The Way God Made You

If I could wave a magic wand and do one thing for every person in the world, I might choose to give everyone deep delight in who God has made them to be. So much pain comes from not liking who we are or striving to be someone we aren’t.

The sooner we can learn to enjoy who we are deep down and surround ourselves with people who love and enjoy us for who we really are, the sooner we can really start living. Who in your life is putting pressure on you to become something you aren’t? Maybe it’s time to start enjoying who you really are and say goodbye to toxic expectations that breed discontent.

4. Don’t Be Ruled By The Expectations Of Others

We live in a world where the expectations of others are so powerful. Our parents push us to do our best. Our friends influence us, and even our spouses can load huge expectations upon us. But there’s a secret to living that Shawn made so clear. You can’t do something only because others think you should. You have to want to do it for yourself. It has to be a desire of your heart, or it will wear you down.

Are there places in your life where you are doing something to live up to the expectations of others? I recommend setting a new set of priorities and saying no to things you don’t really want to do. Strive to please Christ, and let that be enough for you. Jesus said “My yoke is easy and my burden is light.” Shawn found freedom by letting Christ hold her heart and set her expectations.

When we understand Christ’s love for us, he becomes our aim. And pleasing him frees us from needing to please everyone else. May God teach us through the story of Shawn Johnson to handle the pressures of life and be free of constantly striving to live up to the expectations of others.

You may also be interested in It Is Well With My Soul: What To Do When Your Faith Is Put To The Test

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