If seventeen years of gymnastics has taught me anything, it’s that this community is my mission field. In high school, I came to the realization that the Lord has blessed me with my ability to do this sport to reach others for Christ, not only to win competitions or earn accolades.
In response, I took on a leadership role at my club during my junior and senior year of high school. As I grew confident in my faith, the Lord began to bless me with so many incredible opportunities to share the gospel with girls on my team. I distinctly remember talking to teammates about the meaning of Christmas, encouraging them with Scripture and praying alongside them. I felt so grateful for the time the Lord gave me to disciple and love on those girls, but at the same time, I knew it was time to transition toward His plan for my college career.
Coming into the University of Michigan, I was intimidated. Mostly, I was nervous about how others would perceive me. I didn’t know how to navigate discipleship in the midst of my transition from respected high school senior to inferior college freshman. Or, at least that’s what it felt like. So, my solution was to avoid it.
I spent my entire freshman year pursuing my personal relationship with Christ, while hiding from everyone else. For some reason, it was ingrained in my head that a freshman could not lead or take initiative, and therefore, I didn’t even try. Instead of taking action toward discipling teammates and friends, or seeking the Godly community I knew I needed, I stuck with what felt comfortable, which meant not letting anyone in. It left me feeling so incredibly lonely and empty. That was, until last summer.
For three weeks, I had the opportunity to work with hundreds of college students at Kanakuk Kamps, a Christian sports summer camp. There, I experienced a very solid Christian community. I remember desperately asking the Lord why I wasn’t able to find that at Michigan, which caused me to contemplate whether I was even strong enough to stay at the school. I didn’t realize it, but in reality, I was disregarding the fact that it was really me who wasn’t allowing myself to find that community.
After seeking the Lord, I realized that He was calling me to stay at Michigan. So, that’s what I did. And before long, He began answering my prayers by placing community in my life. In the past year I have found a church home, started leading an Athletes in Action discipleship group and gained the confidence necessary to have a voice on my team.
Today, I’m so thankful for the Lord’s faithfulness. I have met amazing women at church who have spiritually poured into me and been a huge encouragement to me in my walk with the Lord. Their support has helped me build the confidence needed to lead the Athletes in Action group, which has given me the chance to build solid relationships with my teammates that are rooted in faith.
Now, like in high school, I have been able to read Scripture and pray with teammates. We’ve also taken the time to brainstorm how we can be a light for the Lord in our sport. It’s been the biggest answer to prayer. Through it all, I’ve realized the beauty of a team. Regardless of the gravity of a situation, we have nothing but respect, support and encouragement for each other.
It has been amazing to see how my teammates have rallied behind me and grounded me in my faith once I let go of my pride and let them in. Looking back at how the Lord has worked in my life the past six months, I only feel more encouraged to continue solidifying my gymnastics in Christ.
A verse that drives me to fearlessly live for Christ is 2 Timothy 1:7:
“For the Spirit God gave us does not make us timid, but gives us power, love and self-discipline.”
Whether I’m stepping up to do a beam routine in front of ten thousand people or asking a teammate to come to church, this verse holds me accountable and pushes me to be bold in my faith in Jesus Christ.
Do not hide in fear. Let others in. Step out in faith and take initiative, trusting that the Lord will provide relationships that will bring you support, accountability and love.
Lauren Farley is sophomore on the University of Michigan women’s gymnastics team.