Rousey’s Honesty Struck a Chord with Me

I think what impresses me most about Ultimate Fighting Championship (UFC) superstar Ronda Rousey is that she seems to not only have a strong mind and body, but a strong and sensitive spirit. When muscle gets stronger it gets harder, but when the spirit gets stronger it gets softer. I spent most of my life training and competing as a ski jumper; and I can say that I have seen few people that seemed more prepared to compete than Rousey.

So how, then, could she feel, after losing, that she wanted to die? Why would she say, “I’m nothing”? Why should any of us feel at any time that if we aren’t winning—in life, in relationships, in business or in athletics—that we have no value? Why should we feel that we only have value when we feel like others love and value us?

I think those questions stem from a fundamental misunderstanding of the power of love and fear over our lives, and the importance of making sure love, not fear, rules our life.

The key to life is not to be loved but to love and to know we are loved by God. Love does not rule our lives when we are loved. Instead, love rules our lives when we love. Jesus loved us before we were born, but our lives change when we love Him.

1 John 4:18 says “perfect love casts out fear.”

Forever, I wondered how love could cast out fear. I’ve learned the answer. Fear always looks out for itself and love always looks out for others. When we put ourselves, our dreams or our missions first, we find ourselves last, but when we put ourselves last we find ourselves first. We can’t give to get, but when we really give our all because we love God and others, fear loses its grip.

When fear controls us, the closer we get to losing, the more undone we become; but when love rules our lives, the closer we get to losing, the more sound-minded we become. Fear has nothing to gain and everything to lose. Even if it wins, it must win again. Love has nothing to lose and everything to gain.

I learned this, years back, in a world class water ski-jump competition. I remember the very moment when I could no longer bear my fear of failure, and I realized that fear was overcoming my will, my training and my abilities. It was taking over my emotions, sending me down a ramp toward dismal failure and downright destruction.

Waiting to make that crucial jump for the championship, I saw the battle between fear and love for what it was, and I found myself saying this short prayer: “Lord, never mind the gold medal I have spent my entire life chasing. I just want to do the best I can for you, no matter what, until I am finished.”

As soon as I mumbled that prayer, I thought of Christ on the cross, and I realized I had a higher calling that carried no chance of failing. I knew if I finished for God with power, love and a sound mind, He would be pleased no matter what. My calling was to give God my best, and the only way I could do that was to be as fundamentally sound as I possibly could, moment to moment, with no distractions until I was done. Win or lose!

It’s not what we do for ourselves in life that adds value to us. It’s what we do for God and others that adds that value. For me, the best part of all this has been finding that, when love rules my life, winning actually becomes my destiny.

Athletes are wired to value winning. I remember for years leaning into the words I’d heard quoted by the football legend Vince Lombardi: “Winning isn’t everything; it’s the only thing.” Though I know very little about Lombardi, I feel safe going out on a limb and saying if Vince really believed this quote, he must have led by fear. If we play to win we are always led by fear, but if we play for God and others love rules our life and winning becomes the fruit.

The most skilled and successful athletes understand and are trained to understand that if losing doesn’t break their hearts, then maybe they don’t want to win bad enough. I was brokenhearted every time I lost and still am, but, win or lose, we should never question our value if we know where our value comes from. It doesn’t come from being loved by others. It comes from being loved by Jesus and from loving Him and others, win or not!

Where fear motivates, fear also destroys. But where love motivates, love builds. If we compete and live to win, then we will run the course, play the game and fight the fight weighed down by the chips on our shoulders. But, if we face each challenge guided by love for God and for others, then we run free.

My prayer for Ronda and for all of us is that we realize there is a bigger reason to fight than just winning. That fighting only to win is a trap and a major distraction that leads to destruction. I pray for her and for all of us, that, in our next fights, we won’t be distracted by past failures or losses; but pursue, instead, the higher calling to be all we can be for God and others. We do that by focusing 100 percent on the fundamentals, from the first second to the last, knowing God is with us, win or not, and that our love can be a witness to others. If she and we do that, all of us can do all things through Christ who strengthens us. (Philippians 4:13)

Kenny Vaughan is the CEO and founder of Shields of Strength, a company that empowers people through its scripture-engraved jewelry. Kenny found strength and purpose in God during his trials as a national water-ski jumping champion. Now his passion is to help others find that same strength.

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