Oprah Winfrey asked the question we had all heard a thousand times. “Yes or no, did you ever use banned substances to enhance your cycling performance?” Only this time the answer was different. ” Yes.”… At that moment, a childhood hero admitted he wasn’t perfect. At that moment, a decade of lies were confessed. At that moment, Lance Armstrong became only a man.
It hurt. I had always believed in Lance Armstrong. You wanted to believe in him. He had the perfect story of what could be accomplished by mortal man. Defeat cancer and then win the hardest cycling competition in the world. And he didn’t do it once, not twice, but seven times! That kind of success is unheard of and yet he did it. And to top it all off, he created a cancer foundation to help others battling cancer. To inspire people to live strong. You couldn’t write a better story. I remember there was a Facebook post not long ago about Lance Armstrong introducing himself as the seven time Tor de France winner. Not long before this his Tor de France titles had been taken away because of the controversy of whether he took performance enhancing drugs or not. I remember being solidly behind Lance Armstrong. I believed he was being honest about not using the drugs, and I believed he should still introduce himself as the champion. Looking back, I feel foolish. I stood behind the man for so long. I wanted to buy a pair of Nike Live Strong shoes solely because of their connection to the greatest athlete of the twenty, first century. Yet, it turned out he was just a man. Why did I want him to be more than a man? I think it was because I wanted hope. I wanted it to be possible for ordinary man to accomplish extraordinary things. Why was he so different? I guess it was the cancer. He had defeated a sickness not many could and then achieved a level of perfection not many could. Yes, I said perfection. I say it because no other man has achieved such heights of success so consistently.
Anger and disappointment filled me at the same time when I heard him admit he had cheated. I wanted him to have done it on his own because then it seemed anything was really possible. I mean, if a man who defeated cancer could do it then maybe I could. It wasn’t about the Tor de France. It was a belief in the statement your parents always told you, “You can do anything if you set your mind to it.” I guess that’s why I found power in the words from the movie Soul Surfer, “I don’t need easy. I just need possible.”
So now where do we go? He cheated. He wasn’t the man we thought he was. Do we forget him? Do we take away his victories and remove him from our history books? Or do we…I don’t know maybe…forgive him?
I wish I could end there. You know? Ask a thought-provoking question and then just leave you hanging. I guess that’s why I started a new paragraph. Now let me clarify, I am not in favor of cheating. It’s wrong and should never be accepted as alright in any circumstance by society. But you remember what I said filled me when I heard he had cheated? Disappointment and anger. Why anger? I guess because he had created a persona and caused me to believe in him. To want to believe in him. I think it is fair to say I have a right to be angry. But soon after I heard the news a quote came to mind, “To be human is to be beautifully flawed.” I held Lance Armstrong in high favor. I forgot somewhere along the line that he was still human. So now I am going to ask you to do a very strange thing. Please pray for Lance Armstrong. I will and I ask you to because of all the ridicule he is going to receive from now on. It was bad when there was just rumors he had used performance enhancing drugs. Now, it will be far worse. Pray that he stays strong. What he is going to face I wouldn’t wish upon my worst enemy. But I want to ask a second thing too. If you are tempted to be angry at Lance Armstrong forgive him. You see if Christ forgave the very man that drove nails through His hands, then can’t we forgive Lance Armstrong? I guess when put that way shouldn’t we be able to forgive all those who wrong us? Christ called us to forgive not once, not twice, not even seven times, but seventy times seven.
In the end, I remember the lyrics to a song by the band Rend Collective Experiment, “Countless second chances we’ve been given at the cross.” And I remember the words of the priest from October Baby, “Because we have been forgiven by God, we should forgive each other. In Christ you are forgiven, and because you are forgiven, you have the power to forgive, to choose to forgive. Let it go. Hatred is a burden you no longer need to carry. Only in forgiveness can you be free…” Isn’t it interesting he says only in forgiveness can you be free?
“Who is a God like you, who pardons sin and forgives the transgression of the remnant of his inheritance? You do not stay angry forever but delight to show mercy. You will again have compassion on us; you will tread our sins underfoot and hurl all our iniquities into the depths of the sea.” Micah 7:18-19